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The Ritual Bathing in Turkey

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A whole social system revolved around the Turkish baths. The Hamams became an institution around which every important milestone in an individual`s life centered. The 40-day-old baby was taken to the Hamam for his ritual first bath, the bride bathed on her wedding day complete with music and rejoicing, grooms too visited the Hamams. Even an Avowal bath was customary. This is the bathing, which follows a promise made on a wish being fulfilled. There were baths for circumcision and of course an entirely different one for mourning.

The bathing itself was an elaborate process involving various equipments and procedures. There were separate bathing hours for men and women. Turkish women specially, being generally confined indoors looked forward to a trip to the Hamam.

There were about 15 to 20 articles needed for a traditional Turkish Bath. These were carried in a bundle, which was ornamentally decorated. As the woman proceeded towards the marble basin, she was wrapped in a `pestemeal`. This is a towel made of a mix of silk and cotton, which was wrapped around her torso. On her feet, she wore wooden clogs or `nalins`, which kept her feet dry. These slippers were highly ornamental with mother-of-pearl or silver decorations. She also carried a `tas` or an ornamental metal bowl to pour water.

The soap case was also made of metal with a handle on top and it was perforated at the bottom. Apart from soap, there was also a `kese,` a coarse cloth mitt to scrub the body. A soaping web made of plant fibers also formed part of the kit. Other items carried in the bundle included three towels for drying, a mirror and a jewel box where the ornaments would be kept while she bathed. Her cosmetics kit included a bowl of henna for her hair, an eyebrow darkener which was mashed with a small copper bowl and another box containing `surma` for lining her eyes, and finally "attar" - rose perfume in a bottle. The woman would sit on a carpet laid on the floor to undress before going to the Hamam, keeping her bundle safely guarded while she bathed. The carpet was washed after each use.

The bride`s bath required special costumes to be worn, which generally came from the groom`s house. On her way to the ceremonial bath, she wore a pair of loose trousers or shalvar and a vest. She was also dressed in a kimono type of robe. Wearing this, she would sit on a throne in the tepidarium. A lady playing the tambourine would lead the way followed by the bride and her contingent, singing a festive song. The procession would go round the tepidarium several times.

In towns, people often carried a bucket to lather soapsuds. The bundle was carried in the bucket.


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