This large, distinctively shaped vessel, known as a kashkul, was made in Kashmir towards the end of the 19th century. Kashmiri silverware is sometimes described as Indo-Iranian or Indo-Persian and was influenced by Indian, European and Middle Eastern design. Elements of the ornamentation, such as the stylised flowers and arabesques, show the artistic influence of the Middle East whilst design motifs are derived from the flowers and foliage of Kashmir’s native plants, commonly the chinar tree, poppy plant and coriander leaf.
Typical Kashmiri kashkuls are boat shaped vessels terminating in a stylised dragon, snake or bird head ‘prow’ at either end. The heads are pierced, allowing silver rings to be threaded through so that the kashkul could be suspended from a chain. Examples were sometimes commissioned by wealthy patrons and donated to dervish orders or a passing holy man.
This Kashkul is of good size with a finely pierced floral and trellis design to the flared foot with pierced crescent shaped panels of similar design situated under the upper rim of the bowl on either side. The lower section of the body has been well decorated in repousse and chased techniques with scrolling floral and foliate elements. At either end of the bowl, snakelike scaled bodies travel upwards from the foot, terminating in the finely detailed heads standing proud above the rim.
Kashkuls were the begging bowls carried by travelling ascetic mendicants or dervishes. The word dervish derives from the Persian word darvish and is believed to be of ancient origin, suggesting that these holy travellers were around for many centuries. Dervishes were principally found in Persia (Iran), Turkey, the Balkans, North Africa, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
A 17th century, ink and pencil drawing from the Persian Safavid dynasty shows a dervish holding a dragon kashkul of similar form and is included within the supplementary photos below. Distinctively shaped bowls such as the dragon form or those made from the rare, double lobed, coco de mer shells, helped to identify these beggars as dervish and distinguish them from ‘normal’ beggars. Along with their bowls, they would usually carry a walking stick, staff, club or axe and wear a gown, cloak and sandals, covering their heads with a cap or turban. They would often dress in old clothes or rags which had been roughly patched together and some orders also draped distinctively patterned animal skins or lambs’ fleeces over their shoulders.
Although there were many different orders of dervishes varying in their practices and the harshness of the regime, the common principles were that followers took vows of poverty and would travel and beg on behalf of others, never for themselves. Through this life they would learn humility and by embracing good works, prayer, meditation, poverty and sometimes dance, they tried to lead a holy life in the Islamic tradition, hoping to eventually achieve a state of religious ecstasy.
Kashmiri silver of this period is not usually marked by the maker nor stamped with the silver purity. However, this kashkul has been stamped to the underside of the base with English silver marks, which show that that it was imported into England, through London, where it was assayed in 1898. The importer was Lizzie Chapple and her sponsor’s mark was registered at Goldsmith’s Hall on 5th October 1898, the annotation stating that she was a silver importer. High grade Indian silver was very popular in Britain at this time and stocked by avant garde companies such as Liberty. The presence of the familiar hallmark, guaranteeing a minimum 925 silver content, would doubtless also have encouraged sales.
Please note that we have a selection of silver kashkuls in our London shop. Please request further details or contact us to arrange an appointment to view our current selection.
Provenance: UK art market
Size: Height: 22 cms, Width: 31 cms
Weight: 1189 grammes
John Culme: The Directory of Gold and Silversmiths, Jewellers and Allied Traders 1838-1914 Antique Collectors' Club Ltd (30 Sept. 1987)