Exquisite, centuries-old bowl graces new Eid stamp
Crafted nearly 700 years ago in medieval Iran, the elegant, hand-painted ceramic bowl on this year’s Eid stamp was made during Ramadan – one of the holiest months in the Islamic calendar, when Muslims in Canada and around the world fast as an act of worship, self-purification and spiritual growth.
The artifact – part of the Royal Ontario Museum collection – is special for several reasons, not the least of which is that it is inscribed with a dated poem written specially for its owner. “A lot of artwork from this era is anonymous. This bowl is unique, in that we know exactly when and where it was made, as well as its significance,” says Dr. Fahmida Suleman, curator of the Islamic World collections at the museum. “Although it’s not in its original pristine glory, it’s amazing it has survived as a complete object.”
According to Suleman, the bowl would have had a special connection to fasting and the festival of Eid al-Fitr, which celebrates the end of Ramadan. As she explains, it would likely have served many owners over the centuries as a vessel for foods – such as soups and dates – that were eaten to break the fast each night.
“The closer you look, the more you realize that it took a long time to plan and make this bowl. It would have been a one-of-a-kind piece and quite an investment for its owner – yet it was functional, as well,” she says. “I imagine that a number of hands and brains went into its making – from the potters who crafted it to the calligrapher who inscribed the blessing.”
One reason the piece has survived so well is that it is made of stonepaste – a hard, white material created from a mixture of ground quartz, glass and clay. The medium was invented by Middle Eastern potters as a more durable, locally produced alternative to highly sought after Chinese porcelain imports. The bowl is hand-painted with a central, geometric design interlaced with flowers and radiating, patterned bands in cobalt blue, turquoise, dark purple and black pigment. The poem, which rhymes in Persian, reads in English:
O Master! May you possess reason,
wisdom and intellect
May you forget all the sorrows of this world
Whenever your appetite draws you towards food
May you enjoy whatever you eat from this bowl
May the high heavens be in your favour
May you be protected from the harm of the evil eye
And that was written in the blessed month
of Ramadan of the year 729 [July 1329 CE]
“There’s a deep sense of humanity expressed in this bowl that still rings true, especially with all the turmoil in the world today,” says Suleman. “The poem urges us to take a moment to forget our sorrows and be grateful for what we have – and wishes us protection and a bit of luck. Blues are auspicious in Islam, so even the colours the artist chose were meant to uplift the soul.”
Canada Post’s fifth Eid issue, the stamp also features, in calligraphy, the words Eid Mubarak, a traditional Arabic greeting that means “have a blessed Eid”. Its issue date is April 3, in advance of both Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, the Festival of Sacrifice, which marks the end of the Hajj pilgrimage to the Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Celebrated in many countries around the world and by more than a million people in Canada, the two festivals embody central Islamic practices and values – including empathy and sacrifice for those in need and appreciation for one’s community and greater humanity. This year, they begin in mid-April and late June, respectively.
“It may seem unusual that an ancient artifact from medieval Iran would make its way onto a Canadian stamp, but it’s really not at all,” says Suleman. “This is a wonderful reflection of who we are as Canadians and how diverse our country is. We celebrate cultures from across the world here.”
Centuries-old Middle Eastern artifact featured on Eid stamp