REPUBLIC OF TURKEY MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND TOURISM

Customs And Beliefs Related To Death In Anatolia

Social life contains a large number of different beliefs, customs, traditions, rites and ceremonies, stereotype attitudes, etc. in many fields. In small settlements in particular, where traditions, customs and beliefs are more influential, death is a concept that reinforces of social solidarity. Death, which is seen as a person’s physical disappearance although he continues to live in spirit, is generally a terrifying phenomenon. With the subconscious pressure created by this fear, a number of events or manifestations are interpreted as omens of impending death, including unexpected forms of behavior, objects being used in a particular way, meteorological events (a shooting star, thunder, northeast wind, etc.), the behavior of animals and noises made by them (barking of dogs, the hooting of owls, a rooster crowing at the wrong time, etc.), dreams (of coffins, wedding dresses, wedding-festivities, camels, houses being demolished, falling teeth, onions, pepper etc.), vehicles and machinery (a shoe turning upside down, a pair of scissors being left open, creaking sounds in the ceiling etc.), as well as physiological and psychological changes (someone’s growing pale, an increase or decrease in appetite, staring fixedly at one point, etc.) in the sick person. People tend to avoid events that are thought to trigger the process of death. Among the ways this has done, is to slaughter the rooster that crows at an inappropriate time, giving some food that has prepared at home or bought outside to the poor if one sees a bad dream, describing that dream to water, waking up pregnant women or children if they are asleep when a dead person is taken away, emptying water cups in the home, where there is a funeral, sweeping the home after the deceased has been taken away, turning cauldron in which the water used for washing the dead has been boiled upside down etc.

People try to comfort the individual who is dying. In order to do this, the pillow under the head of the person who has realized that he is dying is taken away, he is given water, no one weeps loudly in his presence, and relatives who live far away are called to be present. If they are unable to be present, objects that belong to them or photographs are shown to the moribund person. An imam or someone who can read the Koran is also called to attendance.
In the immediate aftermath of a death, the deceased is removed from the bed he died in and placed on the prepared floor, called a ‘comfort bed.’ His jaw is bound up and his feet tied together (usually at the big toes). If the person died at night and there was a relative on his way coming to see him from a long way away, the body is not buried. The waiting time for burial does not pass 14-15 hours (if the died in the evening he will be left until noon the following day; if he died in the morning, the waiting period ends that afternoon). A piece of iron is placed on the stomach of the deceased to prevent the body swelling up. The deceased is not left alone. Local people are informed of the death by word of mouth and by the salah (a prayer recited on certain occasions by the muezzin before he issues the call to prayer). After that, the process that is thought to ease the passage of the deceased to the other side. These practices are also fulfilled to protect the living people from the bad effects of death.

The first practices regarding sending the deceased off include washing the body and enshrouding it within fixed rules. If the deceased was a woman, she is washed by the other women, and by men if the dead person was male. Washers are experienced and well-versed in the rules. In villages, the body is washed inside the house or on a bench reserved for this purpose in the garden, and few people are allowed to be present. When the deceased is washed, the relatives pour a bowl of water over the body, give their consent and ask the deceased for whatever they have shared in the past. In big cities, the deceased is washed in a room reserved for this purpose in the cemetery. The piece of cloth used as a shroud is always white. The shroud for women has more parts to it than that used for men. As a female corpse is wrapped in the shroud, henna (this may also be applied to her hands before the body is washed), black cumin, rose water, Zamzam (water from a well near Kaaba) etc. are sprinkled inside the shroud. When the deceased is waiting for burial or as the body is wrapped in the shroud, incense may be burned nearby to prevent any bad odors. The enshrouded body is then placed inside the coffin and taken to the place where funeral prayer is performed. The funeral prayer is performed at the cemetery or else in the mosque. Women are not usually able to attend the funeral prayer.

Following the funeral prayers, the coffin is carried to the cemetery by the congregation. The grave is prepared before the coffin is brought there. Graves for women are usually dug deeper than those for men. Many different types of burial have been observed in archeological excavations in Anatolia, which has been a home to many civilizations. Bodies have been found inside large, earthenware jars, or in coffins, or placed in storied compartments in a sarcophagus, in tumuli and sometimes in mummified form, etc. Recently, the most popular form of burial is that a flat grave is dug or a separate cavity is opened inside the grave and the body is placed there. The cavity is closed up with branches, adobe, bricks or briquette, and the grave is filled with soil. The body is usually placed in the grave without a coffin. Following the burial, prayers and formulae thought to help the deceased on the other side are recited by the imam. The soil used to fill in the grave is then allowed to settle, which takes about a year. A tombstone may be erected at both ends of the grave, or only at the head. These can be of stone or cement, and recently of marble. Graves are usually, in villages and big cities, in public cemeteries, but there are also family graves in land belonging to the family. There are also family graves set aside in large public cemeteries in some cities. A hollow spot is generally provided or a pot is placed on the grave to hold water and flowers. Various trees (pine, willow, mulberry, cypress, poplar etc.) are planted at the head end of the grave. The tombstone is embellished, with the deceased’s name, birth and death dates and sometimes various literary expressions being inscribed on it. Tombstones serve as historical documents since they reflect the age in which they were made. People avoid stepping on the graves and take care not to allow animals on them. In big cities, there are also commercial institutions that carry out funeral services – from issuing obituary notices to organizing the burial.

Following the burial, people offer their condolences in the graveyard or at home in order to console the relatives of the deceased. Visits to the home of the close relatives of the deceased to offer condolences continue for a while. Meanwhile, no food is generally cooked in the home of the deceased for 2-3 days (in villages), being brought in by neighbors instead. The deceased is remembered on the third, seventh, fortieth and fifty-second days after his death with religious ceremonies and meals. It is believed that the dead pass through a number of stages, the most common of which is the belief that the flesh is removed from the bone on the fortieth or fifty-second days, and it is a common belief that whatever commemoration is held on that date will ease the suffering of the deceased. Furthermore, the deceased is also contented by this, which prevents him doing any harm to the family. It is believed that the smell of the halva or other foods cooked and distributed on special days (the third, seventh and fortieth days after death, festivals, Thursdays etc.) reaches the dead.

While some of the belongings of the deceased (cloths, shoes etc.) are kept as a memento, most are distributed to the poor; if the belongings are not taken by anybody or are in bad condition, they are burned.

If there is a wedding near a home where someone has been buried on that day, musical instruments are not played. The consent of the family of the deceased has to be obtained to be able to play musical instruments on the other days. This applies not so much to cities, but rather to close-knit small settlements. The pain and suffering felt at losing someone we love or know are experienced in the context social patterns, a process known as mourning. The close family of the deceased refrain from attending social activities, and do not wear new clothing for a while (between 40 days and 1-2 years). In some regions, the men do not shave for 1-2 weeks. People also cry out for the deceased. The duration of the mourning period is longer if the deceased was a young person.

It is believed that the spirit of the deceased wanders around and sometimes visits its old home, and that it leaves happy if something is made for it, but that it suffers distress if it realizes that this has not been done. People tend to visit graves on religious festivals or on the day before them. During these visits, people pray in front of the graves, burn incense and candles and distribute money, sugar, sweets and foodstuffs prepared at home.

In our world, with its rapid changes and intense technological development, it is still a fact that death comes to all. Here, the beliefs and practices in society fulfill the function of helping to make this fact more tolerable.