Complete Damascus mahmal with the tughra of Sultan Mehmed Khan IV on Collections Sphere from Khalili Collections
The mahmal was a ceremonial palanquin that represented the authority of the Sultan over the Holy Places. The Mamluk sultan Baybars (r. 1260 – 1277) is reported to be the first to have sent a mahmal with the caravan of pilgrims from Cairo, and the custom was continued under Ottoman rule and almost without interruption until the early 20th century. This, the earliest of seven mahmal covers in the Khalili Collections, is an example of a second mahmal which left Damascus with the caravan of Syrian and Turkish pilgrims. The Egyptian and Syrian mahmals were occasionally joined by a third mahmal from the Yemen.
The embroidered Qur’anic verses are apposite: the text on the pyramid top is Qur’an, surah al-Ahzab (XXXIII), verse 56, which mentions the Prophet; the band around the lower part has al-Baqarah (II) verse 127, which refers to Abraham and Ishmael raising the foundations of the House, that is, the Ka‘bah. At the very top, below the finial, is surah al-Nahl (XVI), verse 7: ‘And they carry your heavy loads to lands that you could not otherwise reach except with souls distressed’.