Sunday 15 August 2010

Mahya: Turkish Illuminations

Reuters (12 August 2010) carries an article on the Turkish tradition of Mahya:

“Yildiz is one of the few remaining masters of Mahya, a tradition unique to Turkey and for which Istanbul's Ottoman-era imperial mosques with their soaring minarets are ideally suited.
Suspended between the minarets, dangling lights spell out devotional messages in huge letters, visible from afar and intended to reward and inspire the faithful who have spent the daylight hours fasting.

While Yildiz's working conditions are hard -- he must mount the minaret's 250 narrow, dark steps every week of Ramadan to change the message and deal with dizzying heights -- his counterparts of previous centuries had it harder. They would have to light and suspend hundreds of oil lamps and wicks and carefully plot letters in Arabic's curving letters.

Today just a handful of Istanbul's mosques use Mahya, but they are the city's grandest, and the phrases, set by Turkey's directorate of religious affairs, are legible from afar.

"Fast, find good health," reads another of this year's Mahya, seemingly printed onto the night sky.

image source

Mahya are said to have their origins in the reign of Sultan Ahmed I (1603-1617), who was so pleased by a Mahya a muezzin had created as a surprise for him, he ordered that they be copied elsewhere.”

You can read the full article here.

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