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RAMAZAN BAYRAM AT THE OTTOMAN PALACE
2000 / JANUARY
At Topkapi Palace Ramazan and the Ramazan Bayram were marked by magnificent ceremonial and strict protocol. Events began three days before the three day festival or bayram which followed Ramazan.

The month of Ramazan and the three-day festival or bayram which came afterwards were particularly important events for the Ottoman capital Istanbul and the palace. Even before Ramazan began the sultan would distribute alms to the poor to demonstrate his piety and charity. The authorities took measures to ensure a plentiful supply of cereals, fruit, vegetables, meat and other foods.

In the courtyards of the major mosques markets known as Ramazan exhibitions opened, with stalls selling fruit, cooked meats, spices, sweets, candles, lamps, clothing, fabrics, books, toys and a host of other things.
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RAMAZAN BAYRAM AT THE OTTOMAN PALACE
2000 / JANUARY

Every family bought the best provisions they could afford for Ramazan and new clothes for the bayram. After the early evening prayers until the pre-dawn meal of sahur, people flocked to see the entertainments in the coffee houses and theatres of Direklerarasi in Aksaray and Tepebasi in Beyoglu. Ramazan was a time of piety and fasting, but equally of fun and festivity, and this mood reached its peak in the three-day bayram at the end of the month, before life returned to normal.

At Topkapi Palace Ramazan and the Ramazan Bayram were marked by more ceremonial than anywhere in Istanbul or even the Islamic world. Events included the annual custom of the sultan’s visit to the Holy Mantle of the Prophet, the Baklava Procession, the Night of Power Procession, and a host of other religious and traditional ceremonies unique to the palace. The programme of bayram festivities known as the Tehniyye-i iydiyye began a few days before the festival with the ceremony known as the arife muayedesi.

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RAMAZAN BAYRAM AT THE OTTOMAN PALACE
2000 / JANUARY

On the first day of the festival was the muayede resm-i hümayunu, a ceremony at which the imperial household gathered to congratulate the sultan on the bayram, and this was followed by the bayram procession.


The arife muayedesi on the 27th day of Ramazan began with the seyhülislam (the highest ranking cleric) paying his compliments to the grand vezir, and throughout that day and the next the vezirs, other state officials and janissary officers visited the grand vezir. On the last day of Ramazan a ceremony known as the arife divani was held at the palace. That day after the noon prayers, the sergeants of the Divan (Council of State), wearing ceremonial dress and carrying long scepters lined up in front of the Divan Chamber (Kubbealti). Behind them stood the sultan’s horses caparisoned in gold and jewelled harnesses, and the saddlers of the royal stables.

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RAMAZAN BAYRAM AT THE OTTOMAN PALACE
2000 / JANUARY

Following the afternoon prayers, the Mehterhane (janissary band) began to play marches, as the grand vezir and members of the Council of State in the Divan Chamber and the sultan seated in the Throne Room on a throne decorated with mother-of-pearl received the congratulations of palace officials and janissary officers, and presented them with bayram gifts. When this ceremony was over, the sultan mounted a horse presented as a gift by his chief armourer and went for ride around his private gardens, stopping to rest in one of the pavilions while he watched sports competitions between the palace pages.

The sultan spent the evening in the Hasoda (royal chamber), and after midnight the Mehterhane would play marches. The vezirs, members of the Divan, seyhülislam and high-ranking clerics would come to congratulate the grand vezir in the Kubbealti.

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RAMAZAN BAYRAM AT THE OTTOMAN PALACE
2000 / JANUARY

They would perform the early morning prayers in the Kubbealti, led by the preacher of Hagia Sophia Mosque, and then line up in order of protocol under the colonnade of the courtyard ready for the muayede resm-i hümayun which was held outside the Babüssaade (Gate of Felicity).

The gold plated, jewel studded ceremonial throne would be brought out of the Privy Treasury, and placed under the eaves of the gate. Precious carpets and long silk rugs would be laid on the ground.

After attending morning prayers in Agalar Mosque in the Enderun courtyard, and accepting the congratulations of his household officials, the sultan would emerge into the second courtyard accompanied by the chief black eunuch and highest officials.

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RAMAZAN BAYRAM AT THE OTTOMAN PALACE
2000 / JANUARY

As he came into sight a chorus would loudly chant ‘Long live our Sultan!’ Then the Nakibülesraf (elected head of the descendants of the Prophet) would recite a prayer, and the chorus would repeat their shouts of praise as the sultan took his seat on the throne. The chief black eunuch and chief armourer would stand behind him and the ceremony would begin. One by one, in accordance with their rank in protocol, those assembled would approach the throne and offer their congratulations.

First came the sultan’s teacher, then members of the Crimean Khan’s family, high officials of the palace, the grand vezir and other vezirs, seyhülislam, chief justices, high-ranking college professors, agha of the janissaries, and commanders of the royal guard regiments. Strict rules of protocol governed the way in which each presented his congratulations, and whether he kissed the ground before the sultan’s feet, the hem of his robe, or the edge of the throne, or took his hand.

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RAMAZAN BAYRAM AT THE OTTOMAN PALACE
2000 / JANUARY

The highlight of the ceremony was when the grand vezir, accompanied by the chief sergeants of the Divan, passed in front of the Kubbealti, holding the right yen (hanging sleeve) of his fur robe in his right hand, and entered the area around the throne. He took three steps forward, then went down on his knees and kissed the ground, took three more steps forward and kissed the ground again, and so on until he reached the throne, upon which the sultan would rise to his feet and the grand vezir would kiss first his right and then left foot.

The vezirs who followed him kissed the ground just once. Only they kissed the ground, as an expression of allegiance to the monarch in their capacity as members of the government. Out of deference the sultan rose when the seyhülislam and other clerics approached, and shook hands with them. The head of the janissaries and regiment commanders kissed the hem of his robe. Finally the master of protocol kissed his sovereign’s robe and the ceremony drew to an end.

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RAMAZAN BAYRAM AT THE OTTOMAN PALACE
2000 / JANUARY
The sultan then withdrew to the harem, where after exchanging bayram greetings at a similar ceremony attended by his mother, wives, children, and female officials of the harem, he dressed for the bayram procession. In Parade Square, as the second courtyard was known, a splendid procession known as the Procession of the Stirrup was drawn up.

The master of the horse, accompanied by other officials of the royal stables led the sultan’s horse to the Taht Kapisi (Throne Gate) of the harem, where the sultan mounted. He rode out of the second gate into the first court and took his place in the centre of the cortège. Amidst shouts of praise and prayers he proceeded to the mosque for the bayram prayers. He performed the prayers in the hünkâr mahfili (royal gallery) in the mosque before returning in procession to the palace. On the other main bayram or feast of the Islamic year, the Sacrificial Bayram, it was customary for nine rams to be sacrificed for the sultan in front of the Hasoda.

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RAMAZAN BAYRAM AT THE OTTOMAN PALACE
2000 / JANUARY

The remaining days of the bayram the sultan and his family spent enjoying diverse entertainments in the palace pavilions, or if the weather was fine taking excursions along the Bosphorus.After the Ottoman sultans moved their official residence to the new palaces in Besiktas and Ortaköy in the middle of the 19th century, some modifications under western influence begin to appear in bayram ceremonial at the palaces.

At Dolmabahçe Palace the bayram ceremonies were held not outside in the court but in the great Muayede Salonu (Throne Room), where the palace women could watch from behind latticed galleries. They also began to watch the bayram procession from royal coaches with latticed windows. When the sultan passed into the harem after the official ceremony and was welcomed by the hazinedar usta, chief woman official in the harem,

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RAMAZAN BAYRAM AT THE OTTOMAN PALACE
2000 / JANUARY

and her assistants, an orchestra of female musicians played marches while the sultan exchanged greetings with his mother, daughters, wives, favourites and female palace officials. The hazinedar usta would scatter gold and silver coins from cloth wrappers. In the evening a reception attended by all the members of the royal family dressed in the latest fashion in evening gowns would be held in the Throne Room.

On the remaining days and nights of the bayram the palace would be a lively round of entertainments: orta oyunu (traditional Turkish theatre), western style plays, concerts and performances by köçek dancers, and for the children conjurers, shadow plays and puppet shows.

 

* Necdet Sakaoglu is a writer.

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