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Engraved & Inscribed Silver Spouted Lota or Aftaba

16th century

height: 14.2cm, width: 12.5cm, weight: 345g



private collection, UK

This splendid little ewer has a superb, darkened patina consistent with significant age. It is also surprisingly heavy in the hand, its walls being of thick, beaten silver. It sits on a flat, ring foot which rises to a flattened, pear-shaped body. A think neck opens to a wide mouth with a prominent rounded rim.

A thin, tapering spout emerges from a tear-shaped flange on the body.

Both the stem above the foot and the shoulder leading to the neck are incised with lotus petal borders. The mid-section of the body is finely engraved with two rows of small petal motifs.

The ewer is very tactile and feels very comfortable in the hand. It is likely that it was used to hold and dispense opium water, or perhaps small quantities of locally produced wine (araq).

Zebrowski (1997, p. 150) illustrates several larger ewers in this or a related form and attributes them all to the 16th century.

Opium usage was common in northern India. It was a part of normal social interaction and for some, an addiction. It was either smoked or dissolved in water and drunk. The Bodleian Library at Oxford (UK) has in its extensive collection of Mughal miniature paintings one of the dying ‘Inayat Khan, dated 1618. The painting shows the courtier to the Mughal emperor Jahangir, laying on a bed and propped up against cushions. His body is wasted and shrivelled, his face sullen and his eyes blank: the courtier is about to die, a result of opium and alcohol addiction. The Emperor was so appalled and fascinated by ‘Inayat Khan’s extreme condition that he mentions it in his memoirs.

The ewer here has a wonderful, evocative colouring from years of handling. It has minor age-related warping and distortions which serve to add to its appeal.


Topsfield, A., Indian Paintings from Oxford Collections, University of Oxford, 1994.

Zebrowski, M., Gold, Silver & Bronze from Mughal India, Alexandria Press, 1997.

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