4032

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Carved Coco-de-Mer Sufi Mendicant’s ‘Begging’ Bowl (Kashkul)

Northern India or Iran (Persia)
18th century

length: 28cm, width: 13cm, height: 10.5cm

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Provenance

UK art market.

This vessel, made from the hard shell of the coco-de-mer nut, is profusely carved all over with arabesque scrolls and cartouches of Naskh Arabic – the word for ‘Allah’ is clearly identifiable. There might also be a date but the numbers are not fully legible.

Most extant examples are attributed to Persia (Iran) but many undoubtedly are from northern India too – where they are known as a kamandalu – as this example might well be. (A similar example is in the National Museum, Delhi, for example (see Gupta, 1985, p. 181). Kashkuls carried the food donations on which Sufi dervishes and wandering ascetics relied for sustenance. They also functioned as drinking vessels – many were fitted with drinking spouts to that end, as is the case with the example here.

They symbolised the emptying of the Sufi’s ego through the renunciation of worldly goods and aspirations. The bowls were produced in a variety of media and were held or hung from the shoulder by metal chains. The earliest examples date to the thirteenth or fourteenth century, and their form may have been derived from crescent- and boat-shaped wine bowls made in pre-Islamic Iran.

This example is made from the shell of the coco-de-mer, which is native to several islands in the Indian Ocean.

It has excellent age and wear. Rarely do extant examples show such clear age. The bowl is suspended by a leather cord.

References

Gupta, S.P. (ed.), Masterpieces from the National Museum Collection, National Museum, New Delhi, 1985.

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