Bismillaah (In The Name of Allaah)
By: Burcu Travis
The Turkish Bath has always been a very important part of the everyday life of Turkish men and women for many centuries. The bath ritual as we know today has its roots in the washing traditions of the Turks that they brought from Central Asia , added to the Byzantine and Roman traditions they adopted in Anatolia.
Particularly for women, rich and poor, the Turkish Bath has served as the heart of social life in a restrictive society serving as a women’s club. But it was not only an everyday hygienic and social occasion: women celebrated important occasions at the bath such as weddings and births.
Ceremonies included the bridal bath, the forty day bath on the 40 th day after , holiday bath on the eve of religious holidays, and the guest bath to which the hostess would invite her friends and relatives to meet a special visitor.The baths were also perfect places for a prospective mother-in law to find a suitable bride for her sons, choosing the prettiest and the healthiest looking girl as a potential daughter-in-law as this was a rare opportunity for more intimate observation.
Baths for women were also where facial, hair and body care was available all day long together with herbal treatment for many conditions and therapy with various oils.
A woman’s body was beautified and her soul restored at the bath. The perspiring body was rubbed with hand mitts made of silk and linen to cleanse it of all the old skin, and lathered up numerous times to purify it of toxins.
For such an important social activity, preparation for the bath was very important. Every woman had typically around 15 different bathing accessories, and for women of means the list could be much longer. Examples of these accessories are today regarded as works of art and can be seen in many Eastern museums.
Here are the ‘must have’s for any Turkish Bath bundle:
Wide, round bowls in silver, copper or bronze for pouring water over the head and body. These were intricately decorated by hand with reliefs and inlays.
Thin bath towels called peshtemal were wrapped around the body and the head. These were woven from cotton or silk, either embroidered or with modern-looking plaid designs. The largest peshtemal was wrapped around the waist, the middle size around the shoulders and the smallest around the head. Bath bundles also included various other fabrics and cloths for keeping the head warm, for spreading on the floor to sit on or special ceremonial robes like a silk robe for the bride in a bridal bath, etc.
The soap dish was a lidded container with a handle on top and holes underneath like a sieve. Soaps, combs and various rubbing, exfoliating and lathering mitts like kese , a silk mitt or loofah pieces and cloths, were placed inside it.
Other items typically found in the bundles were, henna, kohl, eyeliners called surme, mirrors, metal containers for keeping and raised sandals or clogs made of wood, ivory and silver to keep the feet out of water. Rosewater in a bottle, carried in a special wooden case was also very important as no other perfume was considered proper for the newly washed body.Depending on the wealth and social status of the bathing lady, these items could be simple or very ornate and valuable, adorned with jewels and made of valuable metals. It was also customary to take refreshments to the bath to eat together during and after the bath like fruit, lemonade, sherbet and sweets.
Despite the declining importance of the Turkish Bath in the daily life of many of Turkey’s inhabitants, the traditions of bathing – using natural oils and soaps, exfoliation, scrubbing and bathing as ritual for body and mind – has persisted. Now, the benefits are once again being appreciated by those in search of simpler, more natural and time-tested methods in their bath to complement or replace the synthetically manufactured products that are commonly found today.