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Islamic Sufi Flagellant’s Whip with Horn & Bone Handle

Northern India or Iran/Persia
19th century or earlier

length: 51cm



UK art market

This interesting implement comprises a tapering handle of horn disks interspersed with bone discs held together with iron mounts. The handle terminates with dozens of iron chain segments, the chains being of elongated loops.

Devices such as these were used in Sufi dervish rites whereby adherents flagellated themselves and attempted to drive the spikes into their bodies without any apparent harm, thereby demonstrating their invulnerability to wounds and pain as a consequence of their ascetic practices.

Sometimes, dervish Sufis gave public demonstrations usually in exchange for donations for Islamic good causes, such as mosque construction. Adherents appeared in public places using such whips not only in Persia but northern India. In Indonesia, dabus was the term used to refer to a dervish, and dabus groups wandered from place to place performing acts of faith. The Kraton (Palace) Kaspuhan Museum in Cirebon, West Java, Indonesia has in its collection a variety of dabus implements, some of which are illustrated in Bennett (2005, p. 132).

Items such as this example might also have been used by more mainstream Shiite adherents. The Shiites today are followers of Ali whose son Hussein fought and was killed at a battle at Kerbala  in 61 AH or 680 AD. In honour of Hussein’s memory annual processions are staged in Iran/Persia in which frenzied followers beat and whip themselves with chains and branches.

The example here has obvious and significant age. All elements have a fine patina, particularly the handle which has marvellous wear and colouring from age and use. There are losses to the handle as might be expected.


Bennett, J., et al., Crescent Moon: Islamic Art & Civilisation in Southeast Asia, Art Gallery of South Australia, 2005.

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