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The Ottoman Ceremony of the Royal Purse

The Ottoman Ceremony of the Royal Purse

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Published by nurgu
The Ottomon Ceremony of The Royal
The Ottomon Ceremony of The Royal

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Published by: nurgu on Nov 20, 2009
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08/13/2010

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The Ottoman Ceremony of the RoyalPurse
SYED TANVIR WASTI
Unlike more utilitarian systems of government, empires possess a panoply of pompand ceremony, and various observances, stemming often from simple events, whichmay crystallize over the centuries into highly meaningful and honoured traditions.
1
The Ottoman Empire officially spanned a period of over 600 years and, spread as itwas over the heartlands of Islam, possessed, adopted, created and celebrated, inaddition to the religious festivals of the faith, more socially and politically orientedrites and usages as part of its paternalistic and generous approach towards itscitizenry. Information on many of these ceremonies may be found in specializedsources on Ottoman history, such as Pakalın
2
and Abdu ¨laziz Bey.
3
The weekly
sela ˆ mlık
4
ceremony, especially during the long reign of the sultan Abdu ¨lhamid II,used to attract crowds of guests as well as visitors from within Turkey andelsewhere.
5
In the month of Ramadan, the ceremony of the
Hırka – yı Saadet
6
was atypical example of a devotional festival and this ceremony continues today. Amongother feasts frequently referred to in Ottoman accounts may be included the
c¸Alayı
and also the
Baklava Alayı
.
8
The
Surre Alayı
,
9
which is the subject of thepresent article, was an annual colourful procession centred round the transportationof the
surre – 
the large leather purse or pouch containing gifts of gold in coin andbullion from the Ottoman sultan to the Emirate of Mecca and, as such, wasconsidered an important event in the official calendar. In addition to the gold, it wascustomary for the Sultan (and his household members) to send gifts such ashandwritten copies of the Qur’an, silk carpets, furs and velvet, chandeliers,silverware, prayer beads, incense burners, articles of dress embroidered with pearlsand precious stones and even parcels of comestibles. The
surre
caravan thus formedthe official and most prominent component of the vast numbers of other caravansthat transported pilgrims on the annual Hajj pilgrimage to the Hijaz. The OttomanSultan who, since 1517, also held the title of Caliph, sent the surre in his capacity asthe Servitor of the Haremeyn.
10
According to historical accounts, the tradition of sending the
surre
to Mecca andMedina commenced in Baghdad during the reign of the Abbasid Caliph Mehdi.Subsequent Caliphs continued with the practice, which was occasionally interruptedby war. In later years, the Fatimids and the Ayyubids also sent cash, presents andeven loads of grain to the Hijaz as part of the
surre
. Turkish sultans began to sendcaravans carrying presents to the Hijaz starting with C¸ elebi Sultan Mehmet.
11
Here itmay also be mentioned that Farooqi
12
has a comprehensive chapter mentioning thefinancial patronage accorded over centuries to the Sharifs of Mecca by Muslim
Middle Eastern Studies,Vol. 41, No. 2, 193200, March 2005
ISSN 0026-3206 Print/1743-7881 Online/05/020193-08
#
2005 Taylor & Francis Group LtdDOI: 10.1080/00263200500035116
 
Indian rulers not only from the Mughal dynasty but also from among the Bahmanisultans of the Deccan and the Muzaffarids of Gujerat. Accounts indicate that, as apious duty, the last of the Great Mughals, Aurengzebe, sent copies of the Qur’anhandwritten by himself to the sacred sites in Mecca and Medina. The
surre
procession should not be confused with the Mahmil
13
procession, another ceremonydating back several centuries. A comprehensive account of the institution of the
surre
has been compiled by Atalar.
14
In addition to historical details, Atalar has given acompendium of terms and titles pertaining directly to the
surre
. He mentions thatinformation relating to the
surre
was included by D’Ohsson
15
in his several volumetreatise
16
on the Ottoman empire.After the Ottoman capital was moved to Istanbul in 1453, the
surre
processionalong with the caravans of Hajj pilgrims would leave the city customarily on the 12thof the month of Recep.
17
The heavy cloth covering of the Ka‘ba
18
used to be wovenand embroidered in Cairo and sent separately from Egypt to Mecca as part of theEgyptian Mahmil, but after the invasion of Egypt in 1798 by Napoleon Bonaparte,the practice was discontinued and the covering began to be woven in Istanbul byspecialized weavers in the courtyard of the Sultanahmet mosque.
19
However, theembroidery of the Quranic calligraphy that formed and still forms part of the Ka‘bacovering was, by tradition, carried out in Cairo and so during the Ottoman Empirethis cover was sent to Mecca every year by way of Cairo.
20
The year old Ka‘bacovering was brought back to Istanbul and delivered to the Mabeyn,
21
after which itwas cut up into small pieces of cloth and distributed to palace visitors, pilgrims andothers. These pious souvenirs were recycled by their owners into containers for theQur’an, used as prayer mats, for covering sarcophagi
22
or even as
objets d’art
. Thesilver and gold calligraphy that once hung on the walls of the house
23
of Allah nowgraces the tiled wall of many an Istanbul mosque.The Surre Alayı also formed an integral part of the many pious entertainments of the Ottoman sultan’s household. Ays¸e Osmanog ˘lu, the daughter of the sultanAbdu ¨lhamid, recalls this event in her memoirs:
24
A special feature of the
Berat Kandili 
25
was the arrival and departure of thecamel litter carrying the annual gifts in gold and kind from the Sultan toMecca and Medina. The Chief Eunuch with his staff of gold and ivory withhis retinue would bring the camel litter into the garden of the Harem withdevotional songs and cries of 
Allahu ¨ Ekber
.
26
All the ladies of the haremwould visit the litter and contribute cloth for the covering of the litter, whichwas prepared by a couple of women skilled in sewing and embroidery. Thenext day the Surre Alayı, or Procession of the Royal Purse, would beorganized. The womenfolk of the palace also contributed money and presentsin leather pouches to be sent to families in Mecca and Medina as charity.These pouches would be sealed with a special seal bearing the inscription‘come and go in safety’... The
Surre Emini 
27
would prepare the procession andcamel caravan, the Sultan would emerge surrounded by pashas at the windowsof the Yıldız palace, and we too would watch the procession leave, precededby
hakka ˆ ms
28
who beat large drums and performed folk dances. As soon asthe news of the caravan having crossed to U ¨sku ¨dar
29
arrived, cannon werefired by way of farewell.194
S. T. Wasti 
 
From the Yıldız palace, the
surre
caravan would congregate near the Dolmabahc¸emosque, and then move towards the sea front of the Topkapı palace at Sirkeci forthe crossing to U ¨sku ¨dar. The jetty on the Asian end receiving the caravan was calledthe Harem pier as there was an uninterrupted stretch of land under Ottomansuzerainty between the Asian shores of the Bosphorus and the ‘Haremeyn’ – thecities of Mecca and Medina. U ¨sku ¨dar also possesses as a landmark the famousParting Fountain.
30
The main traditional Hajj caravan routes used to bifurcate shortly after arrival atU ¨sku ¨dar, with one set of caravans following the itinerary U ¨sku ¨dar–Eskis¸ehir– Aks¸ehir–Konya–Adana–Antakya–Halep (Aleppo) –S¸am (Damascus), and anothervia U ¨sku ¨dar–Gebze–Iznik–Sapanca–Geyve–Hendek–Ayas¸–Du ¨zce–Bolu–Merzifon– Amasya–Turhal–Tokat–Sivas–Malatya–Diyarbakır–S¸am (Damascus). Thus it wascustomary for all the Hajj caravans, including those that came from other parts of the Ottoman dominions, to team up at Damascus, celebrate the feast of S¸ekerBayramı and then move on for the 60-day camel journey between Damascus andMecca. This was conducted under the supervision of the Pasha of Damascus, witheither the Pasha himself or one of his colleagues being appointed as the
Hac Emini 
31
for that year. It was the responsibility of this high-placed official to ensure that thepilgrimage took place in safe and uneventful fashion.The administrative workings of a large empire like the Ottoman had, perforce, tobe kept under constant supervision. Annual registers for the
surre
were compiled,giving details of the donors as well as recipients of all charitable items. It waspossible for the recipients of 
surre
largesse to opt out of the system if they were nolonger needy, and other persons were chosen in their place. Apart from the gold andcostly presents that had Mecca and Medina as their destination, there were also goldliras, gifts and parcels to be distributed to needy and not so needy persons over thehundreds of kilometres en route. Particularly in the desert regions, the Bedouin whocatered for the food and water needs of the pilgrims had to be compensated.Spreading the wealth of a prosperous Islamic empire was one of the obligations of the rulers and the aristocracy, and the
surre
was one of many methods by which thiscould be achieved. Be that as it may, the Ottomans were scrupulous managers, andthe Turkish State Archives hold today apparently all the original
Surre
Registers forthe years 1600–1909, excluding some five or six years when the processions for theHajj and the
surre
were interrupted by some
force majeure
.The caravans for the pilgrimage, as well as the procession for the
surre
, werecomprised of camels, horses and mules till 1864, when an alternative route came intooperation. This consisted of a sea trip from Istanbul to Beirut, followed by joiningthe caravan at Damascus. After the operation of the Hijaz Railway,
32
the
surre
andpilgrim caravans would cross from Sirkeci directly to the Haydarpas¸a terminus of the railway.The progress of the
surre
procession overland along with the Hajj caravans in thenineteenth century (as also in earlier eras) posed several logistical and securityproblems. Although the Ottomans and earlier rulers like the Mamelukes of Egypthad built a whole succession of forts along the route to the Hijaz, occasionaldisruptions were encountered. In the first decade of the nineteenth century, theWahhabi rebellions
33
posed a threat to both the
surre
caravan and the Hajj pilgrims.There was even an instance of bandits making off with the money and offerings of 
Ottoman Royal Purse Ceremony
195

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