Permanent Collection: Pandans


  • Detail of lock and running antelope or gazelles
  • On the near part of the lid creatures including a stag flee the prowling lion
  • Open with tray in place
  • Tray
  • Detail of chase scene and foliate designs on tray: Dimnah being pursued by the lion?
  • Tray set into lid to reveal inner compartments
  • Tray set into lid to reveal inner compartments
  • Components of paan

Mughal Silver Pandan Box, Persianate Influence, India, C18th

Height excluding handle: 7cms, Width: 16cms, Depth: 11.5cms

This beautiful silver box or pandan was made for the keeping of paan, most probably in the C18th.  It is in the form of an octagonal silver box, and represents a development from an earlier form of pandan.  Rather than consisting of a single chamber for the keeping of prepared quids of paan, this box contains a number of separate compartments, each of which would have contained one of the many possible components of paan.  In this case, the lid of the pandan can be lifted to reveal an inset tray, used to hold the betel leaves in the preparation of the paan, and five further compartments of varying sizes, each with its original lid.

The social chewing of paan was and is popular in the Indian sub-continent, providing for a mildly narcotic effect on the user.  Terlinden quotes Edward Moore (an indologist and soldier of the East India Company) who in 1794 suggested that the compartments of a pandan might contain ‘sooparee (areca nut) sliced, the cardamom....the loong or clove, and the chuna (lime), together with a small spoon for the purpose of taking out the ingredient’.  Cured tobacco and other substances were also sometimes used.

Our example combines some unusual aspects of manufacture and design.  It has a hasp and staple mechanism to the front, allowing for the box to be locked with a small padlock.  In addition, the box carries a hinged handle affixed to the lid via two stylised lotus buds, which enables the box to be picked up and carried without being held directly in the hand.

Decoratively, the pandan eschews both the openwork and filigree decoration often apparent on similar padans of this period in favour of a series of lightly chased animal, floral and foliate designs.  A repeated, scrolling foliate pattern of richly laden grapevines adorns a narrow band around the base of the box, the outer surface of the lid and the edge of the top of the lid.  Within these confines, no fewer than sixteen beautifully chased creatures roam a forest landscape of lightly chased trees, flowers and grasses.  Lion, jackal, antelope or gazelle, peacock and other birds are all among the menagerie on display.

Within, these themes are continued with further creatures represented on the surface of the tray, surrounded by similar foliate designs.  The foliate motifs are repeated on the lids of the internal compartments, each of which is topped by a further lots bud finial handle.

Grape laden vines similar in design to those appearing here were a feature of Mughal architectural design (see Michel, p.169).  A more important influence on this pandan, however, derives from the tradition of animal forest scenes in Persian and Mughal painting, textile design and other arts.  Groups of animals, often pursuing one another, being hunted by emperors, princes and heroes or in unfeasibly peaceful combinations of species, set in a range of different landscapes, are a major theme in Persian and Mughal miniature painting.  In addition to Michel’s examples (p.242), Grabar shows big cats and wolves supporting Hushang in his battle with the Black Demon in a C16th Shahnameh (p.70) while Canby has a C14th Dimnah the Jackal (p.34).  These scenes, as with other subjects in Persian and Mughal painting, often have a literary inspiration, and this influence may also have extended into metalwork.  Canby's jackal is very similar to a jackal like creature appearing on our pandan, depicted as being chased by a lion, and it may be that our silversmith took his original inspiration in the stories of Kalilah and Dimnah.  Whatever may be the case in this instance, the theme of creatures depicted against landscape is an important one, and the decorative aspects of our piece can be seen as a variant of this artistic tradition.

References and sources:
Canby, S., Persian Painting, (London: The British Museum, 1993).
Grabar, O., trans. Grabar, T., Mostly Miniatures - An Introduction to Persian Painting, (Woodstock, Oxfordshire: Princeton University Press, 2000).
Michel, G., The Majesty of Mughal Decoration - The Art and Architecture of Islamic India, (London: Thames & Hudson, 2007).
Terlinden, C., Mughal Silver Magnificence, (XVI-XIXth C.), ([n.p.]: Antalga, 1987).

Provenance: The UK art market
Catalogue number: GNC11


  • The Tomb of Humayun in Delhi
  • A single plant image reminiscent of architectural decoration
  • Marble inlay work on the cenotaphs of Shivpuri

Mughal Silver Pandan, India, C18th - C19th

 Height: 13.5cms

This domed, circular Mughal paan box or pandan is of strikingly architectural form and decoration, capturing as it does a sense of the domed tombs and palaces of the sub-continent.  The architectural inspiration for the object is evident from a simple comparison with extant structures, for example the mausolea of Humayun and Isa Khan in Delhi.

The pandan rests on a base of six decorated hollow silver pillars, each topped with a small lotus form finial.  The pillars are joined by a series of very gently curving panels, which together support the lower portion of a bulbous dome.  The object is finished with a snugly fitting lid, in the form of a stylised lotus plant and finial flower, which can be removed and replaced with ease.

The finely chased panels located between the pillars display a central flower of eight petals surrounded by further foliage and flowers.  The body and the base of the dome are separated by two layers of lotus leaves.  Above these, the dome carries the finest chasing on the object in a further series of panels reminiscent of arched and lobed architectural niches.  Within each of these stands a highly ornamented single plant motif, surrounded by further scrolling foliage, spouting in each case from a single pot, the spaces between the panels being further decorated in a similar style.

Above, the lid's splaying lotus leaves alternate between simple and feathered decoration, before finishing in a finial of further ornament. 

Michel (p.190-193) has commented that the use of similar single flowering plant in pot motifs in arched frames was a feature of printed cotton hangings from the C17th onwards, showing examples with some similarity to ours, especially in their great concern for symmetry and balance.  Such designs are also frequently represented in architectural decoration, perhaps most famously in and on the great Taj Mahal.

Notwithstanding these allusions, the dating of the current piece is difficult, reflecting as it does a range of key Mughal design features which stood the test of time, and we have therefore suggested C18th to first half of C19th as a possible range.  Objects of modest similarity to our own are dated to the early C19th and 1810 in Terlinden (pp.145-146).

References and sources:
Michel, G., The Majesty of Mughal Decoration - The Art and Architecture of Islamic India, (London: Thames & Hudson, 2007).
Terlinden, C., Mughal Silver Magnificence, (XVI-XIXth C.), ([n.p.]: Antalga, 1987).

Provenance: The UK art market
Catalogue number: GNC7


  • Ribbed and tiled dome in Samarkand

Brass Pandan, India, C17th - C18th

 Height: 7cms, Diameter: 10cms

This paan box or pandan, of domed, ridged form and consisting of a body and a lid, is related to a group of objects described by Zebrowski as a variant of the early pandan, commonly found in the C17th and C18th.  This piece is notable for its volume of ribs, these being thirty one in number.  As a style, such pandans have been likened to the ribbed domes of Islamic Central Asian and Indian architecture.  In this instance, the ribs rise to a smooth and circular finish at the centre of the ‘roof’' of the pandan.  Zebrowski attributes pandans of this form to Northern India, whilst Terlinden suggests a Deccani origin for similarly shaped objects, albeit of higher quality.  Perhaps they were ubiquitous.

Unlike some later pandans, this example is of the earlier kind, designed to carry rolled or folded paan leaves after they had been prepared, rather than providing a means of keeping the constituent ingredients of the paan seperate.

Interstingly, in order to close the box, a small notch in the metal at the top of a body rib must be matched directly with a similar notch on the bottom of a lid rib, otherwise the piece will not close.

With regard to decoration, the body and lid of the pandan are entirely covered in repeated chased or etched representations of a single tree or flower, save for two bands of a different design around the top  of the ribs, and a floral or foliate motif on the top of the dome.  Both the two top bands and the foliate motif have been virtually worn away through constant wear and use, suggesting an early date for the object.  The nature of the single tree or flower remains unidentified, however the motif appears on two ewers in our collection attributed to the C18th, (GNC2, GNC5) as well as other ewers published elsewhere, where it sometimes appears overset on a leaf motif resembling that of the poppy.  Poppies have been identified as a feature of Mughal decoration, not least by Michel (p.201) among others, and there would seem to be a narcotic justice in decorating pandans with poppies.

The decoration within is of equal interest.  The base of the pandan is covered with a beautifully engraved lotus flower set within two decorative roundels.

References and sources:
Michel, G., The Majesty of Mughal Decoration - The Art and Architecture of Islamic India, (London: Thames & Hudson, 2007).
Terlinden, C., Mughal Silver Magnificence, (XVI-XIXth C.), ([n.p.]: Antalga, 1987).
Zebrowski, M., Gold, Silver and Bronze from Mughal India, (London: Alexandria Press, 1997).

Provenance: The UK art market
Catalogue number: GNC3