LAKSHMI KOTHANETH –
The ‘declaration of faith’ has been an important trend for many believers across generations. They were inscribed not only on doors, jewellery and coins but including headstones. Fast forward to today, these articles from a long time ago have become collectors’ items and became an integral part of exhibits in museums.
At the National Museum of Oman, there are three marble gravestones that take one’s attention. Dating from the Rasulid era, they were originally located in a cemetery in the Rabat district of present-day Salalah. These headstones are on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (UK) and they take one on a trip to a beautiful era of the past.
“The stones were probably produced in Khambat (medieval Cambay), a monsoon port city on the west coast of India located only one month’s sailing distance from Dhofar,” said the inscription at the National Museum of Oman.
It added, “The Rasulids (Banu Rasul) were a Muslim dynasty that ruled Yemen in 7th – 9th c AH /13th-15th c CE and extended their influence north-eastward as far as Dhofar, which was governed by a side branch of the family. During this period, complex administrative systems were established in support of commerce and trade, including frankincense, and Dhofar experienced prosperous two centuries.”
The three gravestones are notable for the purity of the white marble and the most distinctive feature is a foliate arch at the top of the stone from which is suspended a lamp carved in high relief. In addition to their epitaphs, the stones bear numerous Quranic inscriptions. The paired gravestones belonging to Sultan Ibrahim bin Yusif bin Omar ar-Rasuli contain Surah 3:26-7, which speaks of God’s all-encompassing power, and many verses which deal with the garden of paradise and the seven heavens. The headstone of Shaikh Muhammad bin Abi Bakr bin Sa’d feature the Throne Verse (Surah 2:255-7) and Surahs 3:18 -9, 9:21 and 59:22.
Two stones headstone and footstone dated 711 AH/1311 CE (Rasulid Sultanate) according to archeological experts belong to the grave of Sultan al Wathiq Nur ad-Din Ibrahim Ibn al Malik al Muthaffar, the son of the Rasulid Sultan of Yemen, who ruled Dhofar from 692 AH/1293 CE until his death on 20th Muharram 711 AH/8 December 1311 CE.
An analysis of the two stones revealed a complicated history of manufacture and re-carving and indicated that they originated in western India.
Meanwhile, the other headstone had marked the grave of Shaikh Muhammad Abi Bakr (d.714 AH/1315 CE), and as per the museum has been identified with a certain Shaikh Abi Bakr whose shrine was visited by Ibn Battuta during his visit to Dhofar in 730 AH/1329 CE.
What is interesting is that the headstone is a rare example of a Khambat-style gravestone produced in advance, during the lifetime of the person it was intended for and then completed upon his death.