Outside the Chest : An Icon of The Past

Happening Issue 110 Jan, 2011
Text by Yukta Bajracharya / Photo: ECS Media

 The word ‘treasure chest’ holds romantic connotations of pirates, gold and jewels. Who wouldn’t want to find a treasure chest for themselves, however kiddish the idea may sound? Chests, with or without the treasure, have largely been a part of our Nepali culture. The sandook is a universal piece of furniture which has made its presence visible in all cultures, albeit with different names. In our own culture, the sandook carries great functional as well as social values.

Bhuwan Kumari Shakya, 60, reminisces “When I was young and unmarried, my mother collected all the things she wanted to hand me down when I was married and kept it in the sandook. The sandook stored my entire dowry and came to my husband’s house once I was married.” Earlier, it was a tradition for mothers to store the to-be-handed-downs for their daughters in sandooks.  Though the idea of dowry has persisted in the Newari culture in some form or the other, this tradition of collecting them in a sandook has, more or less, vanished. Since, nowadays the dowry usually consists of new rather than vintage things, Bhuwan Kumari Shakya believes that the importance of the sandook and the collectables it carried inside has faded away.

Rectangular, and usually made out of wood, these sandooks make great storage boxes. The sandook can be used for the same reason today - to store clothes, children’s toys, jewellery, and expensive art and even food grains. While some sandooks can be as big as requiring a whole room, they are available in all sizes. They account as vintage furniture and while the inside space is used to keep things safe; a closed sandook is also used as a furniture to sit on in some households.

Sandooks, as we know it from the olden days, were largely plain. However, at present, their role has changed from marriage cassones and only-storage items to decorative pieces. They can be used to add an elegant or an authentic medieval touch to your room. As room décor, they have various designs and carvings on them. The designs vary from simple carvings to elaborate ones that tell stories of events from history. Though largely a part of the past, the sandook has still found a place in the present as (if nothing else) room decorations.