Beggar’s Bowl (Kashkul)

Accession Number: 
24 cm
18th century
Materials and Technique: 
Carved nut shell

Drifting on the ocean from its native habitat on the Seychelles near the coast of southeast Africa all the way to the shores of India and Iran, the coco-de-mer nut (Lodoicea maldivica) acquired a mystical significance. Its voyage became symbolic of the journey of the Sufi mystic on the path leading to spiritual knowledge. This mystical connection may have led to the function of this remarkable object as a beggar’s bowl (kashkul) carried by a Sufi dervish as a sign of renouncing all worldly possessions and subsisting on the generosity of humanity. The kashkul is fashioned from the shell of half of the nut, with carved inscriptions and supplications in Arabic and Persian. The upper band of inscription contains the Nad-e ‘Ali, the devotional prayer to ‘Ali. The rest of the prayer reads: “Help me with your hidden kindness, God is higher than the fire of your torture O … with Your Mercy O You, most Merciful of all those who are merciful, God is my Lord, my aid comes from You O …”