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Islamic Sufi Flagellant's Spiked Iron Whip
Northern India or Iran/Persia
18th-19th century

length: 54cm

This extraordinary implement comprises a finely-forged, long iron spike attached to a head that comprises a hollow iron sphere. Iron chains are attached to the
head and these terminate in flat, sharp-edged iron pendants. (Seven chains are present, one is shortened and missing its attached pendant, and two are
missing altogether).

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. Elsewhere, more sedate processions are held, including in London, where followers dress in
black as a sign of mourning and walk whilst repeatedly patting their chests over the hearts.

The example here has small losses to the chains as mentioned, a deep patina and obvious age. It is possibly more 18th century than 19th century.

An old collection label is attached which dates to around 1920 or earlier. It reads:

'rare and curious old Arab implement of self torture, consisting of a heavy iron ball with chains attached and a long spike on top, used by dervish fanatic
dancers.'

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

Provenance: UK art market

Inventory no.: 4758 SOLD
Images from the October 1, 2017 procession in London's Regent Street of followers of Hussein and Ali. (Photographed from the vantage point our gallery.)