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Indian Inscribed Cast Brass Lamp with Oil Container

Kerala, South India
19th-early 20th century

length: 51cm, height: 19.5cm



UK art market

This large, fine lamp of cast and incised brass either would have sat on the floor, or was used when walking around to light other lamps. It is typical of a type of lamp used in Kerala, on the western side of India’s southern tip. It was used in conjunction with Hindu prayer (puja) rituals.

It comprises a flared, circular foot, a deep oil reservoir, a handle section with a bud-like finial at the rear, and a shallow Yoni-shaped oil well or burner at the front.

A floral motif and a six-pointed star motif have been etched into the top surface of the lamp.

On the underside, two struts connect the handle and lamp sections to the body of the reservoir.

The underside of the handle section is inscribed with a brief section of Malayalam script, the main script used in Kerala. Another brief section of script has been engraved into the underside of the domed foot. Probably, these are ownership marks, which were used in large houses of extended families so that property rights and thus inheritance rights were clear.

A similar lamp is illustrated in Rawson (1971, p. 15). Another is illustrated in Anderson (2006, p. 35).

A small pointy section of the top edging has been lost, and originally the lamp would have been accompanied by a small spoon used to ladle oil from the reervoir to the shallow lamp area, but this is no longer present.

Overall, this is a fine and sculptural example of south Indian metalwork.


Anderson, S., Flames of Devotion: Oil Lamps from South and Southeast Asia and the Himalayas, UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, 2006.

Kelkar, D.G., Lamps of India, Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, India, 1961.

Rawson, P., Tantra, Arts Council of Great Britain, 1971.

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