Culinary Culture in the Mevlevi Order
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Culinary Culture in the Mevlevi Order

Abdülbaki Gölpınarlı

“Matbah” (the kitchen) constitutes the essence of the Mevlevi dergah (convent). The aşçı dede (“Ser-tabbah” the senior cook) kazancı dede (chief of the cauldron), içeri meydancısı (indoor caretaker) and bulaşıkçı dede (the washer of dishes) are the moral guides (“mürebbi”) of the convent. The chief cook is entrusted with the administration of the expenses of the convent; he is also responsible for the education and training of the seekers (can). The cauldron father can be considered as the assistant to the aşçı dede. The halife dede (the chief successor) trains the nevniyaz (new seekers), or novice disciples, teaching them appropriate manners. The “meydancı dede” (Master of Ceremonies) is under the command of the sheikh; he is the one who delivers the orders. In addition to these, two other small dervish lodges used to exist in Konya, the Şems zaviyesi and the Ateşbaz zaviyesi; the sheikh of the former was called the şems dedesi. The sheikhs of these two lodges used to come to the Mevlana convent on Fridays, taking part in the mukabele ceremony (the whirling prayer). When a sheikh was appointed to a post somewhere, usually the Ateşbâz Şeyhi would take his icazetnâme (authorization to teach) to that place. Since the convent was also a music haven and a school for learning literature, the neyzenbaşı (chief ney player) and the kudümzenbaşı (chief drum player) held a revered position among the convent elders. The âyin, or Mevlevi liturgy, would be taught to the âyinhan (the liturgy singers) by these two, who would train the singers and ney players through a kinaesthetic method called meşk. In this method, the rhythmic patterns (usul) of Mevlevi music were practiced by striking the knees with the hands. The Mesnevihan, another venerated figure in the convent, would teach the Mesnevi (the Mathnawi, a Turkish work dedicated to the life of the Prophet), to the talented disciples, lecturing them on the subjects of languages, literature and sufi thought. He would give authorization to those who had become ready for interpretation of the Mesnevi. The Mevlevi dedes mentioned so far were responsible for rendering services for the convent in all respects, material and spiritual. For that reason, they were called dergâh zâbitânı (officers of the convent).

Eighteen services were carried out in the kitchen. These were performed by :

1. Kazancı Dede. Responsible for the education and training of the disciples. Just as the Chief cook, he had also a “post” (a sheep skin) of his own. In other words, he had a makam, a spritual and lasting station, an awareness leading to purification.
2. Halife Dede (The Chief Successor): He would teach the rules of conduct and appropriate manners to the novices.
3. Dışarı Meydancısı (Outdoor caretaker): In Konya, he took the orders of the “Tarikatçı Dede” (the chief spiritual guide) to the fathers in the cells. In other places, the authority giving the orders fell to the Chief cook.
4. Çamaşırcı Dede (Chief laundryman): He would wash the clothes of the dedes and supplicants or appoint someone else to perform the same task, and oversee the cleaning tasks.
5. Ab-rîzci (literally, water pourer): He would tend to the cleanliness of the toilets, the ablution fountain and faucets.
6. Şerbetçi (Sherbet-maker): He prepared the şerbet (fruit drinks) for supplicants who were given a cell. In addition, he would serve şerbet to the dedes on their visits to the kitchen.
7. Bulaşıkçı (Dish washer): He cared for the pots and pans, washed them (or had them washed) and kept them clean.
8. Dolapçı (Cupboard keeper): He also took care of the kitchen utensils and would have copper items lined with tin by tinsmiths.
9. Pazarcı (Shopper): He went to the bazaar in the morning with a large basket and brought the items to the convent.
10. Somatçı (Table keeper): He would set the dining tables, pick up the dishes after meals, sweep the floor near the dining area (or would have it done).
11. İç meydancısı (Indoor caretaker): He made coffee for the supplicants and on Fridays, he prepared coffee for the visiting dedes.
12. İçeri kandilcisi (Indoor oil lamp keeper): He prepared and cleaned the oil lamps and candleholders of the kitchen. He would also increase, decrease, or revive their light and polish them.
13. Tahmisçi (Coffee-grounder): He ground the coffee in the kitchen and for the dervishes.
14. Yatakçı (Bed-maker): He laid out the beds of the supplicants, later gathering them up and putting them in their place.
15. Dışarı kandilcisi (Outdoor oil lamp keeper): He took care of the oil lamps and candles and candleholders.
16. Süpürgeci (Sweeper): He swept the yard (or had it swept) and attend to the cleanliness of the floors.
17. Çerağcı (Candle lighter): He guarded the oil lamps and candles of the kitchen and was considered as the assistant of the “türbedâr” (tomb-keeper).
18. Ayakçı (Errand boy): He would run errands and take needed items from place to place. This duty was assigned to the novices.

When there were plenty of novices in the convent, one or two assistants would be assigned to those to be served; these were called “refiyk” (companion). When, on the other hand, there were less novices, two or three duties were performed by a single person.
Somat (Sımât)

The Mevlevi dervish is always in a state of “vahdet murakabesi” (contemplation of unity); «Hûş der dem», that is, he is observant of his presence in the moment he exists. All his mind is concentrated on this; as stated in the holy verse «Erler vardır ki, alış-veriş, onları Allah’ı anmaktan alıkoyamaz... » (There are those men whose dealings do not lead them astray from praying to Allah) (XXIV, 37), he does not forget that he is in unity with God. In this respect, eating is also a kind of worship since it also requires gratitude.

The late Ahmed Naim Bey (died in 1934), who was a professor of Dârülfünun (university in Ottoman Istanbul), narrated an anecdote in which a sheikh invited him to a meal. “There’s a saying that giving gratitude for the food (God’s grace) means seeing the one who bestows the grace in the food,” said Ahmet Naim Bey. After a brief moment of thoughtful silence, the sheykh answered: “we have not yet reached that level of greatness to utter such words.” The mevlevi dervish contemplates on the strength of the one who gives the mercy and the wisdom of the one who receives that mercy; he sees the grace in the food.

Among Mevlevis, the kitchen is a holy place, where those who are “raw” get cooked and those who are “unripe” ripen. This is the station of “Ateş-bâz-ı Veli .” When the meals are cooked, the Kazancı dede comes and takes the lid off the cooking pot with a prayer.  The novices place the pot on the ground. They chant together these words:
«Tabhı şîrîn ola; Hak berektin vere; yiyenlere nür-ı iman ola. Dem-i Hazret-i Mevlana, sırr-ı Ateş-bâz-ı Velî, kerem-i İmâm-ı Ali Hû diyelim. . »
(May the meal be pleasant, may God give bounty, may it become the glory of faith for those who eat it. Let us chant “Hû” for the Breath of the Holy Mevlana, the Secret of Ateş-bâz-ı Velî, the Generosity of İmâm-ı Ali.)

Altogether they chant “Hû.” When it is time to eat, sofra are set up in the special part of the kitchen reserved for dining. A sofra is a large, circular piece of wood laid on a low stool whose legs are interlaced into one another at a right angle. Pelts are placed around the sofra. Spoons are laid along the edge of the sofra so that their bowls are to the left and their handles toward the right, all facing down. The Sufi leave the spoon face up, calling this position “at prayer,” whereas Mevlevis leave the spoon face down, calling it “in supplication.” The main point here is not to reveal one’s dirty spoon to others, which is considered inappropriate. At a meal eaten with spoons, everyone puts his spoon down facing downwards after each use. After spoons are placed on the sofra, a pinch of salt is put in front of everyone. A wide towel long enough to surround the sofra is placed so that it partially covers  its rim, with the remaining part resting on the those seated. At the center of the sofra, a “nihale” (table mat) is placed. The novices who serve water prepare their water jugs and glasses. The food is distributed into dishes, and these are placed on a table in the dining hall. The dervish responsible for announcing the meal time goes first to the door of the sheikh’s room and, after “sealing feet” (placing the right big toe on the left one) and bowing the head with hands placed on opposite shoulders, he calls out «Hû... Somata salâ» (Invitation to the table). He then enters the corridor where the cells of the dervishes are located and repeats the call there as well; he makes the word «Hû» last slightly  longer, extending the word “sala” for the duration of one more breath.

After leaving their cells, the dervishes bow their heads, then enter the kitchen with their right foot first. The sheikh comes and all together they sit down around the sofra, greeting it. The soup is brought first and placed in the middle. The food is eaten from the same dish and there is no talk during the meal. The meals starts with everyone taking some salt by pressing his index finger on it and tasting it. The spoon is always placed face-down and towards the left. While eating, it is not proper to make sounds, look around, or eat from the part of the tray in front of others. Everyone is seated on his knees. Once the soup is finished, one of the assigned dervishes takes the empty dish while another brings the next one. Depending on the number of people, two or three novices wait with “sealed” feet, carrying water jugs in their left hand and glasses in their right. They pay close attention for anyone who wants water. Whoever wants to drink water breaks a piece of bread and holds his morsel on the level of his left shoulder; the water server attends to him. The water server gives the full glass to the one who asks for it after greeting the bottom of the glass. Until the one who is served water finishes his drinking, the others stop eating and wait for him. When he finishes, the sheikh silently puts his hand over his heart and lightly greets him. In return, the other one greets him back and gives the glass back to the water server after greeting the bottom of the glass. The water server receives the glass in the same way, taking his original position with sealed feet. When the pilaf comes, everyone assumes an upright position. The sheikh, if not, the chief cook, calls out the following “gulbank” (chant):

“Mâ sûfiyân-ı râhîm mâ tabla-hâr-ı şâhîm
Pâyende dâr yârab in kâserâ vu henrâ”2

Salli ve sellim ve bârik alâ es’adi ve eşrefi nûrı cemi’-il enbiyâi vel mürselin; vel hamdü billâhi rabbil âlemînel Fâtiha.»

After the sura of Fatiha is recited, the following is said:

«Nân-ı merdân, ni’met-i Yezdân, berekât-ı Halil’ür - Rahmân. Elhamdü lillâh, eşşükrü lillâh; Hak berekâtın vere; yiyenlere nûr-ı iman ola; Erenlerin hân-ı keremleri, nân-u nimetleri müzdâd, sâhibül - hayrât-ı güzeştegânın ervâh-ı şerifeleri şâd ü handân, bâkıyleri selâmette ola; demler, saflar ziyâde ola. Dem-i Hazret-i Mevlânâ, sırr-ı Ateş - bâz-ı Veli, kerem-i imam-ı Ali Hû diyelim.»

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