19 • A Kashkul

19 • A Kashkul

Iran; 19th century
28 cm long; Coco de mer
Once belonging to Zagraphos-Bey, banker to the last Sultan of Turkey

The strange history of the coco-de-mer from the Seychelles, and our historical imaginings about them, have been widely discussed and published. In India and other areas of South- East Asia, they were valued for their enticing resemblance to a woman’s buttocks, and generally preserved intact. In the Middle East, however, they were put to a quite different use.

Sliced vertically, each nut provided two begging bowls, which, with chains attached, hung from the shoulders of wandering dervishes throughout the Middle East. In these they received charitable donations of food and water to sustain them on their way. These begging bowls are freighted with significance. Unlike in the monastic tradition of Christianity, begging was a temporary phase in a dervish’s spiritual education that lasted as long as was necessary. The begging bowl became the symbol of the search, and is considered to hold the Baraka of that search.

This kashkul belonged to Zagraphos-Bey, banker to the last Sultan of Turkey, which suggests the depth to which a mystical tradition was embedded in every level of Middle Eastern culture. We cannot easily imagine this because our views of the spiritual life have been coloured by Christianity, and its particular interpretation of what is required. Most of the Ottoman sultans had a Mevlevi dervish as their closest confidant, while their armies were presided over by Bektashi dervishes. Many are the stories about Sufi teachers who deposited their Baraka in objects such as kashkuls, to be retrieved and used later by whoever had the capacity to do so.

– Oliver Hoare, 2015

Inscribed:

Balaghal-ula be-Kamal-e-hi – He attained exaltation by His perfection
Kashafad-duja be-Jamaal-e-hi – He dispelled darkness by His beauty
Hasunat jamee’u Khisaal-e-hi – Beauteous are all His qualities
Sallu alae-hi wa Aal-e-hi – Benediction be on Him and His family

It is related that when Saadi wrote this quatrain in praise of the Prophet he struggled to compose the final line, which was later revealed to him by the Prophet Muhammad in a dream.