Tuesday, 22 May 2012


Hacıbektaş 46 km from the city of Nevşehir is notable in that it is the home of a famous dervish dergâh (lodge) in the centre of the town. Hacıbektaş is the sacred centre of Alevi Islam, and every year on 16, 17 and 18 August, tens of thousands of faithful flock here. They come from communities that follow the teachings of Hacı Bektaş Veli, whose emphasis on peace and tolerance make his a universally relevant doctrine still widely popular today.

The life of Hacı Bektaş Veli is shrouded in mystery. All that is known are stories and legends passed down by word of mouth until they were written down several centuries after his death in a book entitled the Velayetname by a Bektaşi dervish. It is believed that Hacı Bektaş was descended from the Caliph Ali (Alevi means those who follow in the footsteps of Ali), and his date of birth is given variously as 1209 and 1247. The Velayetname tells us that Hacı Bektaş came from Nishapur in Turkistan, where he was the student of Lokman Perende, one of the followers of Ahmed Yesevi.

He later migrated to Anatolia, where he settled in Sulucakarahöyük and began to spread the teachings of the Alevi mystic tradition in Turkey. These teachings, which came to be known as Bektaşi, address the heart, and urge friendship and humility instead of strife. Much later his teachings were given systematic form by the 15th-16th century Bektaşi dervish Balım Sultan, and so the Bektaşi dervish order gained its body of tradition over the centuries.

The dergâh or dervish lodge of Hacıbektaş became a museum in 1964. The entrance leads into a large courtyard, to the right of which once stood buildings accommodating the dervishes who worked the land and farm labourers employed by the lodge. These buildings were demolished when the lodge was being converted into a museum, and a wall built here.

At the far end of the wall is the Üçler Fountain symbolising the Creator, Muhammed and Ali, a fundamental concept of Alevi faith. An open space on the left is like a small park, and originally there were stables for the horses of guests, barns and other outbuildings here. At the end of the courtyard a gate leads into a second courtyard, where there is a pool with a border of flowers. If it is not too crowded you can drink from the holy water of the Lion Fountain. The inscription over this fountain explains that the lion statue was brought from Egypt as a gift to the lodge in 1853.

The second courtyard was the busiest part of the lodge, with the aşevi (refectory), pantry, hamam (baths), guest house, hall where the sacred services known as cem were held, and the pavilion where the lodge’s leader, the Dedebaba, received guests.

The final gateway leads into the third courtyard where the tomb of Hacı Bektaş Veli stands. On the right are the graves of dervishes belonging to the lodge, and in the small mausoleum just beyond lie Balım Sultan and Kalender Şah, two great figures of the order.

The ancient wishing tree in front of the mausoleum is one of the places which visitors never fail to stop at. Before entering the mausoleum it is customary for visitors to embrace the cylindrical marble stone in the right-hand corner. If you can embrace it with two arms, then it is regarded as proof that your heart is clean and your intentions pure. The tomb was built by Şeyhsuvar Ali, lord of the Dulkadirogulları principality, in 1519 following the death of Balım Sultan.

The walls of the mausoleum are decorated with painted kalem işi (ornamental decorative arabesque brushwork), and there are examples of Bektaşi calligraphy. The door is original. The mausoleum of Hacı Bektaş Veli himself is known as Pir Evi, and at the entrance are the graves of the baba’s of the order, dervishes who attained the highest degree.
As you walk towards the Kırklar Meydanı hall, on the right you pass the çilehane, a cell where the dervishes spent time alone in the presence of God. If you wish to see inside you must bend almost double, and a few minutes alone in that dark cell gives you an impression at least of what it must have been like for the dervishes who came here. On the raised platform to the left of the Kırklar Meydanı are buried the descendants of Hacı Bektaş who sat on the ceremonial fleece of office and were known as çelebi or bel evlatları.

In this hall where the dervishes performed the ceremonial dance known as the kırklar semahı, are now exhibited the twelve sided stones known as teslim taşı which the dervishes hung around their necks as symbols of the Bektaşi order, earrings worn by unmarried dervishes who devoted their lives to serving their lodge, handwriting of the Caliph Ali on gazelle skin, beautiful examples of calligraphy, torches, censers, and the Kırkbudak Candelabra which according to the Velayetname came from India. Finally a small door on the right leads into the tomb chamber of Hacı Bektaş Veli, where visitors walk three times around the sarcophagus before offering up a supplication to Hacı Bektaş Veli. 

In the 14th to 15th centuries, lived Balim Sultan who was the great master who enriched systemic Bektaşism. He was born to a Balkan Greek mother. Balim Sultan’s tomb/shrine lies in the compounds of Haci Bektaş. Visitors that pay their respects to Haci Bektaş Veli also visit Balim Sultan’s shrine.
Near the lodge is Dedebagı, an open park scattered with trees, where visitors who have come for the commemoration ceremonies gather to picnic and drink the ice-cold spring water from a fountain known as Şekerpınar. A lay moslem cemetery is also found adjacent to these grounds.

The teachings of this sect of Islam seem particularly humane and enlightened and are summarised by the key teachings of Hacı Bektaş Veli:

“Search and find.
Educate the women.
Even if you are hurt, do not hurt others.
Sages are pure and sometimes purifiers.
The first stage of attainment is modesty.
Whatever you look for, search for it firstly within you.
Do not forget that even your enemy is human.
Control your hand, your words, your lust.
The beauty of human beings is in the beauty of their words.
Prophets and saints are God’s gifts to humanity.
The road that does not pass through science is perilous.
Do not try to find faults in either nations or individuals.
Blessed are those who try to enlighten the darkness of thought.
Do not do unto others what you do not wish to be done unto you.
Peace be with you!”

This post is part of Julie's Taphophile Tragics meme.


  1. I visited Turkey in the early 70s and went to see the whirling Dervishes. I can't remember the name of the town I was in but I do recall what an amazing spectacle it was as they went into a trancelike state as they whirled around.

  2. Interesting post, never really understood what a Dervish was about before.

  3. Fascinating. I'm drawn to history, especially when time has intervened.. adding more questions than answers. Great post!

  4. wow...great photos and an educative entry! thank you. I apologize for this question: is there ghost in the photo Number 7 ????
    I see 2 persons...and a "shadow"...who is him?

    Love the place and , as I said the photos are brilliant!

    Thanks for visiting. BShell

  5. Fantastic post and such stunning pictures!

    Herding Cats

  6. I hope to visit this country. Great pictures. The colors are gorgeous.

  7. A wonderful narrative to accomany your photographs, Nick. I had always thought 'whirling dervishes' to be German for some godforsaken reason. I think of them together with the sirens on the rocks. Obviously, I gave my brain a wrong steer along there somewheres.

    I can but shake my head about the many wonders still existing in our world of which the vast majority of us are ignorant.

  8. What a fantastic entry to TT, Nick. You put so much thought and effort into your posts. Informative narrative and wonderful photos today. If more people could be exposed to the teachings of Hacı Bektaş Veli as you inform us here, how much better the world could be. Turkey is high on my list of places to visit.

  9. For some weird reason I associated whirling dervishes with India! No idea why! Had to read through this post slowly to absorb it all! A fascinating area I knew nothing about! Brilliant!


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