Place of Origin: Tamil Nadu, India
Date: 18th Century
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. The cutters are sometimes referred to as ‘betel nut cutters’ which is a misnomer since there is no such thing as a ‘betel nut’.
This 18th century example is in the form of a handsome stallion with chiselled and pronounced features, and simple line decoration representing the mane. The blade is integral to the upper section and forms the horses belly. A lower section, attached by a simple pivot at the base of the long neck of the horse, form the partly protracted front legs. The curved cutter handles forming the rear legs. When the cutter is closed, the horse is at rest, but when opened, the horse appears to rise up on his back legs like a stallion rearing in the wild. The ears, mane and tail represented by chased and shaped pieces of applied silver.
Brownrigg (1991) publishes the Samual Eilenberg collection of betel-cutters, and shows a small group of horse cutters from Tamil Nadu. A popular subject matter for cutters not only from India, but from Indonesia as well. He comments that an iron horse betel-cutter is an exception to the general rule that Indian horse cutters are usually of brass. The reason for Brownriggs observation is that brass is a far more malleable material, and the creation of a iron horse sculpture of the quality shown in the Eilenberg example (IBID, fig.no.70, p.77) and the comparable one shown here, would be a difficult task for the maker, thus, made at a higher cost, and for a weather and more important client.