Religious holidays, celebrations in Ottoman era

Published 18.12.2019 01:43
Updated 20.12.2019 02:29

After Ottoman sultans performed the Eid prayer at the Hırka-i Saadet Dairesi (Chamber of the Holy Mantle), a throne would be placed in front of the chamber. As the sultan sat on the throne, the imam there would recite prayers and officials would give them gifts. After that, the Janissary band (mehter) would begin playing and the attendants would shout “May we have many more happy days like this Eid,” and prayed.

People entitled to exchange greetings with the sultan were specified in the legal code. People who had this right would perform the morning prayer at the Hagia Sophia Mosque and go to the palace to convene at the Divan-ı Hümayun (Imperial Council).

When informed of their arrival, the sultan would proceed to the Audience Chamber (Arz Odası), passing in front of officials lined up on both sides to where the throne stood. Here, the nakibüleşraf, the chief of the descendants of the prophet, would meet the sultan and recite prayers.

The ceremony was planned down to the smallest detail, like who would stand where. For instance, the harem ağası, the chief eunuch of the harem, stood behind the throne and the silahdar, the sultan’s sword-bearer or principal page, stood on the left.

The mehter band played throughout the ceremony. After the sultan sat on the throne, state officials would enter the sultan’s presence from the right according to their ranks and kiss the hem of his sleeve. The sultan would stand up when officials like the grand vizier or kazasker (the chief judge) would kiss his sleeve.

Following these high officials, bureaucrats such as defterdar (finance minister), nişancı (chancellor), reisülküttap (head secretary of the imperial council) and defter emini (registrar) would appear before the sultan. But unlike the previous group, they would not kiss the sultan’s sleeve but the threshold.

On the other hand, the Sheikh-ul-Islam (the chief religious official) would bow before the sultan and kiss his hand. After kissing the sultan’s sleeve or hand, the officials would move to their designated spots and stand there during the entire ceremony. High ranking officers of the Kapıkulu Ocakları (standing army) would also be present during this Eid celebration.

The sultan would pass to the Has Oda (Privy Chamber) after the ceremony and change clothes in preparation for the Eid prayer. Eid prayers were performed in big mosques, mostly in Hagia Sophia or Sultanahmet, which are close to the palace. The sultan would be asked before Eid where he would like to perform the Eid prayer and preparations would be made accordingly.

The sultan would come out of the harem and mount his specially adorned horse, and depart for the mosque accompanied by state officials who were waiting for him in front of the Babüsselam Gate. High officials would follow the sultan either on horse or on foot, according to their rank. After the prayer in the mosque, the retinue would return to the palace in the same order. This walk to and from the mosque for the Eid prayer was known as the "Eid parade."


Eid celebrations would be held in different palaces later on, as new palaces were built. In addition to Dolmabahçe Palace, ceremonies were also held at Çırağan Palace. Dolmabahçe Palace featured a magnificent ceremonial hall.

Sultans received Eid greetings from state officials in this hall. During the exchange of Eid greetings, a band would play on the upper floors, and the harem women would watch the ceremony behind lattice-work screens. The exchange of greetings with members of the harem was held in the Blue Hall, on the upper floor of the palace. Jewelry like chains, earrings, necklaces and brooches demanded by harem women on the occasion of Eid would be procured from jewelers who worked with the palace.

Officers and civil servants were paid a bonus before Eid. The sultan would provide aid to the poor in honor of Eid. Soldiers would be offered sugar, lamb meat, helva and salad. Soldiers and officers of the zaptiye (police and gendarmerie) forces would be given a fez and tassel each or be paid the amount needed to buy one. During the first day of Eid, halwa would be distributed to prisoners as well. Certain convicts who had served two-thirds of their sentences would be pardoned.


Books and articles by Fikret Sarıcaoğlu have shed light on the life of Sultan Abdülhamid I, one of the most interesting figures in Ottoman history. In an article titled “The Sultan and the Ramadan” in his “Book of Ramadan,” Sarıcaoğlu describes what an Ottoman sultan used to do during the holy month of Ramadan.

What Sultan Abdülhamid I dwelled on first during Ramadan was the sighting of the Ramadan crescent, which marks the beginning of the month of Ramadan. In the imperial rescripts (hatt-ı hümayun) he wrote to the grand vizier, Abdülhamid I orders a meticulous inspection be conducted over when the Ramadan exactly begins and messengers be sent to high-altitude places like Bursa, Bolu and Edirne to learn whether the new moon has appeared.

Ottoman sultans used to go about in disguise to see firsthand the conditions in which the general population lived. Abdülhamid I used to go about in disguise frequently. The sultan placed special emphasis on such tours in disguise during Ramadan. During Ramadan, he would move among the people for three days, first on the eve of Ramadan, usually disguising as a religious scholar (ulema). Leaving the palace after the morning prayer, the sultan would go on until midafternoon and inspect particularly the prices of meat, bread and cooking oil – staples for the population. Abdülhamid I used to send successive orders to the grand vizier especially before Ramadan, to make sure that people had no difficulty obtaining foodstuff.

During the reign of Abdülhamid I, with the beginning of Ramadan, Huzur Dersleri, classes on Koranic commentary or tafsir in the sultan’s presence, were held every day.

Since various military campaigns were going on during the period, the classes tended to focus mostly on the Fetih (Victory) Sura. While sultans usually broke their fast in the palace, Abdülhamid I would occasionally go to the mansions of Esma Sultan, his sister, in Kadırga and Maçka for iftar (fast-breaking meal).

Abdülhamid I, who was a very devout Muslim, did not miss Tarawih prayers, a special prayer performed every night during Ramadan, either. Though he performed the Tarawih prayer mostly at the palace, several times during Ramadan he would go to a mosque to perform the prayer with people. Abdülhamid I preferred the Eyüp Sultan, Hagia Sophia, Tophane, Yeni Valide and Fındıklı mosques for Tarawih prayers.

As he focused more on worship during holy nights (kandil), Abdülhamid I would have prominent scholars brought to the palace during kandils and listen to their lectures. Also, on such nights, verses and hadiths appropriate to the occasion would be recited.

The sultan would sometimes attend the rituals of different orders, like the Mevlevi or Bayrami. He would go to the Hagia Sophia Mosque on Laylat al-Qadr, the 27th night of Ramadan, and to the Sultan Ahmet Mosque during the Mawlid (birthday of the prophet).

The sultan would also visit the Chamber of the Holy Mantle in the palace, where the sacred relics were kept, during these days. Reciting the Quran with the Sheikh-ul-Islam (muqabala), he would also have khatms (complete recitation of the Quran) done in the name of his late father, Sultan Ahmed III.

*Historian, chairman at National Defense University, Ankara

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