Meaning-laden garments and accessories worn by dervishes
by Zeynep Esra İstanbullu
ISTANBULFeb 06, 2016 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Zeynep Esra İstanbullu
Feb 06, 2016 12:00 am
Constituting a significant part of Turkish-Islamic culture throughout the centuries, Sufism is a rich area for cultural study. Recently, a photo book was published that looks into the garments and accessories worn by dervishes, the followers of Sufi orders
The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality's (İBB) cultural wing, İBB Kültür A.Ş., has published a book titled "Derviş Çeyizi: Türkiye'de Tarikat Giyim Kuşam Tarihi" (The Dervish Dowry: The History of Clothing in the Dervish Orders of Turkey) to promote the Sufi culture that has left a mark on Turkish-Islamic civilization and describe their rituals.
The book was compiled by Professor Nurhan Atasoy, an art historian, and İBB Kültür A.Ş. has published a new edition of the book, in both Turkish and English, with a 1980 foreword written by Atasoy, since the 2000 and 2005 editions of the book sold out.
The book consists of five chapters titled: Turkish Clothing in the Dervish Order in Islamic Miniature Paintings, Common Sects and Clothing at Main Centers, the Dervish's Dowry, the Meanings of Colors and Clothing Rituals.
In the first chapter, Islamic miniature paintings are examined closely in order to shed light on dervish clothing styles, and the second chapter contains detailed information regarding famous Dervishes, including the Beyazid-i Bistami and Hacı Bayram Veli, and schools, such as the Kadiriyyes, Cerrahis, Halvetiyyes and the Naqshbandis. Chapter three show cases different items, from coronets to special clothing worn during sema (whirling) rituals as well as fur coats used by the dervishes, along with the requirements, histories and the meanings attributed to these items. This chapter also details how the shapes and colors of these items changed as well as the rituals required by the meanings ascribed to them. The items can be deemed as simple and ordinary but have much deeper meanings in Sufism.
The book stresses that the capes, caps and other items of clothing used by the shaykh (leader) of each school were not prepared in a simple manner or purchased. On the contrary, each item had a different meaning and contained various symbols. The clothes functioned as official uniforms and displayed ranks and degrees that needed to be earned. Furthermore, the rituals regarding the clothing of the leader, full of specific actions, are explained in the book, and it further notes that clothes were passed down from a leader more advanced in the sect.
The oldest items of clothing that survive from among the Dervish orders in Turkey belong to Bayezid-i Bistami; however; no work of the famous Sufi written in the 19th century have survived until today.
Symbolism of colors: 'Green is the lover of white'
The book also explains that certain items gained symbolic meanings, which is why the fourth chapter focuses on the meanings of colors. According to Agah Efendi, "Since green is the color of the heaven's gardens and the lover of white, it is used for relief, and there is virtue and honor in wearing it. Our prophet [Muhammad] had also advised us to wear the color red. Me'mun, one of the Abbasid Caliphs in Baghdad, had painted all black guard posts green. Therefore, the coronets, turbans and other clothing worn by the members define their authorities and ranks."
Atasoy also included quotations from a book written by Yahya Agah Efendi, who was the leader of the Davutpaşa Erdo Baba Dervish Lodge, titled "Mecmû'âtü'z-Zarâ'if Sandûkatü'l- Ma'ârif," (Collection of Beauties, Chest of Knowledges) which describes the items included in the dervishes' dowries.
Staffs are an important part of dervish culture, even enshrined as holy items at mausoleums belonging to sect leaders and other holy personalities. For example, according to Agah Efendi's description, the staff was a ritual for both its health benefits, and since it was used by Prophet Muhammad and also first mentioned as a "sunnah" by Adam.
The crown of Muhammad
Caps (coronets or crowns) have been used across cultures and centuries to signify the social status of individuals, and the same applies in Sufism as well – displaying the sects, degrees and ranks of Sufis. The book states that the holiness and meaning of coronets dates back to the time of Muhammad, as he was presented a coronet by Gabriel when he ascended. According to Evliya Çelebi, who traveled the Ottoman lands for 40 years and wrote one of the most comprehensive travelogues regarding the 17th century Ottoman Empire, the "Seyahatname," the first prophet to wear the coronet was Adam, followed by 124,000 other prophets. Described as being related to the fur of the ram that was sent by Gabriel according to the Quran, dervishes sitting on a fur coat is a tradition that dates back to the times of the prophets Ibrahim and Ismail.
Teslim Taşı (Surrendering Stone): I am devoted to God
The book also describes the story behind the 12-cornered stones worn by Bektashi dervishes around their necks at heart-level during a ritual. "Muhammad placed his daughter Fatma's hair in Ali's hand, binding them in eternity. Dervishes who wear these stones indicate that they have devoted themselves to God," according to the book.
Mengüş: A special type of earring showing wisdom and celibacy
Agah Efendi notes that the story surrounding the "mengüş," another important item of the dervishes' dowries, is worn to indicate that those wearing these special types of earrings made of lead have devoted themselves to solitude, wisdom and celibacy. According to a legend, these earrings are shaped in the form of horseshoes to refer to Ali's horse.
Atasoy's best kept secret
In the foreword prepared for this new version by Atasoy, she also reveals a name, which has guided her through her research and that was kept secret in the previous version. The name is Safiyüddin Erhan, the grandson of Eşrafzade Rumi. Atasoy visited the families of shaykhs in the 1970s, photographed their inheritance and copied the patterns of the clothing. She said a man she met in the northwestern city of Bursa during her research had exhibited great effort in revealing the items and had previously not revealed his name, as he belongs to the Dervish order.