Place of Origin: BIDAR, INDIA
Date: Second Half of the 19th Century
Overall: 130mm (5 inches)
This small box was used for containing betel or ‘Paan’. The practice of betel-chewing is a historical cultural phenomenon which has been endemic throughout the Indian Subcontinent, South East Asia and large parts of the Western Pacific. ‘Paan’, in Hindi, is a chew or ‘quid’ parcel of a betel leaf containing areca nut, which is sliced using a betel-cutter, and a lime paste. It is chewed for its stimulant and psychoactive effects, and during the Sultanate and Mughal periods in India, the word ‘Pandan’ was coined to name the betel container, constructed from the Hindi word ‘Pan’ and the Persian suffix ‘-dan’.
This example has been cut into the shape of a mango, including the leafy top which is raised from the rest of the cover. The main surface of the cover then is decorated in typical form with dense leaves and curling poppy flowers inlaid in silver, pleasingly framed by geometric borders set at either side of a further band of miniature leaves (this pattern is enlarged and repeated over the side of the box).
The decorative technique used here would categorise this piece as an example of bidriware (named after the common city of such objects’ manufacture – Bidar), where the typical metalworking technique saw craftsmen blacken a cast alloy of zinc, copper, tin and lead which would then be carefully inlaid with silver or brass.
 For an overview of this type of work see Susan Stronge, Bidri Ware: Inlaid Metalwork from India, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 1985.