The inscriptions have been read in full by Dr. Melikian-Chirvani. He translates the verses:
In the sorrow of love the heart is resourceless
It became a beggar and enjoys kingship
Of the burning pain and of the 'alif-marker, where are the drum and the standard
As he holds a beggar's boat made from the horse-shoe (crescent moon?)
This roguish galander that dissipated the sorrow in my soul
Yesterday lead me with his winks towards the purpose of my revolution
The boat with its rider brought tears to my eyes
And remoted the rust from my heart, torn and lamenting
This is one of five impressive Safavid engraved brass kashkuls which can be dated to the last two decades of the 17th century. The largest and most impressive of these is in the Tokapi Palace Museum. A second, formerly in the Hashem Khosrovani Colection, was sold at Sotheby's, London, 16 October 1997, Lot 21 and is now in the Museum of Islamic Art, Qatar (Allan, James W.: Metalwork Treasures from the Islamic Courts, Doha, 2002, no. 15, pp. 56-9). The third was on the Art Market (The Unity of Islamic Art, exhibition catalogue, Riyadh, 1985, no. 99, pp. 122-3) while the fourth was formerly in the Rothschild and Edwin Binney 3rd Collections (Pope, A.U.: A Survey of Persian Art, London, Oxford, 1938, pl. 1386A; Welch, Anthony: Shah 'Abbas and the Arts of Isfahan, New York, 1973, fig. 42, pp. 470-71 incorrectly identified as copper). All of these except the last one are illustrated alongside the discussion by Melikian-Chirvani (op. cit.).
In his discussion Melikian-Chirvani clearly shows how a royal wine vessel form, dating from pre-Islamc times, was transformed into a dervish's begging bowl. These five vessels were made at a period when the transformation was mid-way. They are extremely well-made with very elegant calligraphy; the workmanship on the Tokapi example is such that both the designer and the calligrapher give their names. The inscriptions on this kashkul clearly express the duality of purpose; while they refer at one stage to the " Magian ruby beverage" they also mention "the crescent moon of the celestial vault becomes the boat of our beggarhood". The inscriptions are full of Sufi mysticism and in some cases explicitly demonstrate that they were made for the use of dervishes. The inscriptions on the present kashkul blend these two aspects, demonstrating particularly in the second quatrain, as Melikian-Chirvani points out, the decadence that struck Sufism at this time. Dr. Melikian-Chirvani explains in great detail, using quotes from Persian verse from a long historical period, the symbolism inherent in the kashkul. Its comparison with both a boat and the crescent moon is contrasted with the sea (wine) and the sun as indicated by the radiating cusped form of the foot and, ultimately, the reflection of the Almighty in the surface, and through the contents.
One aspect of kashkuls is that they tend to have chains for suspension. The Riyadh example has suspension rings fitted through the dragons' heads while the Qatar one has them set onto the crown of the head. In the present example it seems probable that they were inserted into the mouths of the dragon-head terminals; this would account for the unusually deeply drilled holes there and the lack of any other sign of fixing or, for that matter, noticeably rubbing under the necks of the dragons as would have been the case were chains to have been looped under there.