Enquiry about object: 6451

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    Unusually Large Mongolian Silver & Burlwood Airag Drinking Bowl

    Mongolia or Tibet
    19th century

    diameter: 18cm, height: approximately 8.6cm, weight: 488g



    UK art market

    – scroll down to see further images –

    This fine and unusually large drinking and eating bowl is from Mongolia and possibly Tibet. It is of burlwood, probably rhododendron burlwood, and has high-grade (almost pure) hammered silver mounts set with coral and turquoise cabochons. It is the largest such bowl that we have seen.

    A large, single piece of silver sheet covers the deep interior of the bow and folds over its rim.

    The bowl sits on a low ring foot, and this is encased in sheet silver that has been beautifully decorated with applied silver gem-set flower motifs interspersed with four of the eight precious objects (ashtamangala) – the pair of golden fish, a kalasha vase, the lotus, and the parasol.

    Such bowls were used by the nobility to eat and drink. The silver was supposed to protect the user against poison. The larger the bowl, the more important the user. Such bowls were used at ritual feasts and the most important person present, perhaps a visiting dignitary, would be presented with the largest bowl to use.

    Such bowls were used in Mongolia primarily to drink fermented horse’s (mare’s) milk known as airag. Mare’s milk is so naturally high in lactose that it is barely drinkable. The fermentation process turns the lactose into ethanol and other by-products. Airag is not particularly alcoholic however and has an alcohol content of very weak beer.

    The bowl is in excellent condition. All stones are present. The bowl has a very fine patina and obvious age.


    Sheeks, R., ‘Tibetan and Mongolian tsampa boxes’, Arts of Asia, March-April 1996.

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