The hookah, also known as a shisha or narghile, originally used for smoking hashish rather than tobacco which was introduced to Persia around 1600. The leaf is burned with hot charcoal in the upper bowl and the smoke is sucked through the hosepipe after passing through water in the lower vessel.
This wonderful painting is perhaps of a somewhat idealised hookah fit for the Moghul emperor. It would have been made of gold embossed jade or green glass, with the hose of birch bark or leather, embroidered with crimson silk and gold thread.
Company School style paintings became popular with wealthy Europeans. It was not uncommon for East India Company officials (who were not employed as medics or botanists) to build their own personal collections of paintings depicting Indian life and flora and fauna. We cannot be sure how local amateur botanist Richard Cresswell came by this collection of 86 Company School works. It is possible Henry Creighton commissioned them during his time as a judge in Calcutta and that on his death the works came back to the UK with his daughter Frances who later married Richard Cresswell.