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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. Alongsode this is the word for ‘sufi’. There is a date which is either AH 1217 0r 1257 – so early to mid-19th century.
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.
Gupta, S.P. (ed.), Masterpieces from the National Museum Collection, National Museum, New Delhi, 1985.
William Tardieu, pers. comm.