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Ducks / Hintha bird opium weights

The hintha motif is the most frequent one. Hintha corresponds to the ‘hamsa’, sometimes called ‘hansa’, of Hindu-mythology.Hamsa was the wild goose, the steed of Brahma who is the creator of the universe, the protector of the world, the God of wisdom.

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  • Five headed Brahma bird
  • Five headed Brahma bird
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  • Five headed Brahma bird
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Five headed Brahma birdFive headed Brahma bird
The five headed Brahma, riding a holy goose.

The tradition of the ‘hamsa’ or ‘hintha’ motif in Burmese art can be traced back to the 7th century A.C. The Mon people called one of their three main regions ‘hamsa-vati’, today Pegu. The holy goose was also their emblem.

´Hamsa´ represented the ideals of purity and goodness.
The base of the royal throne in the Hall of Victory in the palace of Mandalay was decorated with ´hamsas´.

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A silver container for betel nuts in the shape of ´hamsa´ was part of the regalia of the last Burmese monarch, King Thibaw.

Nowadays this container is displayed in the museum of Rangoon.

Even the simplest tools of daily use were fashioned in the shape of the holy goose, example: the shuttles of loomes.

Ancient Opium Weights

The oldest hamsa-shaped opium weights, which we call below hintha weights date back to the 16th and 17th century, see the picture on the right.

The oldest hamsa-shaped opium weights, which we call below ´hintha´ weights date back to the 16th and 17th century, see the picture on the right.

A monk from a monastery in Upper Burma as well as an artist in Mandalay studied animal figures dating back from the 17th to the 19th centuries as they are to be seen in frescoes and in ´Buddha´s Footprints´.

A comparison between these figures and the fashioning of these animal-shaped weights enables us to draw conclusions concerning the age of the different weights: the motifs of standard opium weights which were chosen by a king at the beginning of his reign, certainly occurred in many works of art of the same period.

Visa versa, it is also possible that the motif was transferred from art to the fashioning of standard opium weights.

Be it as it may, at present the results of these comparative studies are only available in Burmese.

It seems certain that hinthas resembling a sleeping duck (also called Mon duck) were cast in the 18th and 19th centuries, see the picture below.

The hintha opioum weights, cast in the 19th century, are of an extraordinarily splendid fashion. The heavy weights were furnished with handles so as to facilitate transport. Later on, the decorative effect of the handles was realized and the smaller weights were fashioned alike.

They are simply casted with convincing elegance (see below left image).
From the 19th century onwards the handles were decorated (see below middle image).
Sometimes an object resembling a worm or a sprig of foliage hangs from the beak (see below image on the right).

Fraser-Lu distinguishes two different types of ´duck´-shaped opium weights: hintha and karaweik, a Burmese crane, see below:

It remains undecided whether this distinction is correct. We agree that it may be applied to rather old opium weights and weights which resemble clearly a goose or a duck. Many ´ducks´ are a mixture of hintha and karaweik.

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