Taking a Spill

Gift exchange was essential for forming political bonds. During a boating party in 1519, Babur and his companions struck a rock and were pitched overboard. Babur bemoans how a favorite porcelain cup disappeared into the water. He relates the incident to a guest, a respected warrior and ambassador, who then presents the emperor with a replacement. Babur’s lost cup was probably a fine example of Chinese blue and white porcelain ware, which was much sought-out in India and elsewhere in the region.

China, Jiangxi province, Jingdezhen, Ming dynasty, early 15th century
Porcelain with cobalt under colorless glaze
Purchase—Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Freer Gallery of Art

In the words of Babur…

Babur recounts in his memoir how his raft capsized during a party on the Jhelum River:

“At the confluence of the Panjshir River, the raft struck a rocky outcropping of the mountain and started to sink. Ruhdam, Tengri-Qulï, and Mir Muhammad the raftsman were thrown into the water when it struck. Ruhdam and Tengri-Qulï were pulled back onto the raft only with difficulty. My china cup, a spoon, and a tambourine fell into the river. Farther down, opposite Sang Burida, the raft struck either a limb or a piling for a dam. Shah-Hasan, son of Shah Beg, was thrown backward and, clutching at Mirza-Qulï Kükäldash, pulled him over too. Darwesh-Muhammad Sarban also went overboard. Mirza-Qulï’s fall was remarkable. He had been cutting a melon just as he fell, and he stuck the knife into the mat on the raft as he went over. He swam in all his clothes and got out of the water without coming onto the raft. When we got off the raft, we were put up for the night in the raftsmen’s houses. Darwesh-Muhammad presented me with a porcelain cup exactly like the one that had disappeared into the water.”

Thackston, Wheeler M., trans. The Baburnama: Memoirs of Babur, Prince and Emperor. New York: Oxford University Press in association with Smithsonian Institution, Freer Gallery of Art, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 1996. 292.