Sufistic Concept of Attire in the Costume of Sheikhs and Dervishes (Based on Late Herat Miniature)

Late Temurid period in Khorasan and Maverannahr was marked by the broad propagation of Sufism, the mystical and ascetic branch of Islam. Khorasan had long since been the centre of Sufistic teaching, and during the last quarter of the 15th century the influence of Naqshbandiya Sufistic Order covered all spheres of social life. The main requirements of Sufism and the Naqshbandiya Order were spiritual purity, renunciation of money-grubbing, voluntary and conscious poverty and modest life in a cloister. One of the principal ideas of the teaching is the equality of men in God, spiritual loyalty and specific interpretation of death, whereby it obliterates all social hierarchy placing a king and a dervish on the same level if they were equal in their spiritual development.

All famous people in the scintillating Herat court - scholars, artists, musicians and poets - were the adherents of this teaching. Under the influence of Jami and Navoi even Sultan Khusain Baikara, the ruler of Herat since 1464, abandoned Shiism and became the follower of Sufism.

Sufistic teaching was vividly reflected in Herat miniature of the last quarter of the 15th century - in the art of Bekhzad and his school - and manifested itself in a certain democratization of depicted scenes that used to portray the life of the court circle. The portrayal of craftsmen, builders, bath-house visitors, wrestlers, ordinary people, Sufis and dervishes becomes popular in Herat miniature, as well as the theme of unrequited love (Farhad's death, Yusuf and Zuleikha, Majnun and Laili) (1, p. 358).

Miniatures on Sufistic subjects performed by Bekhzad and his school offer a unique opportunity to look at the vestments of sheikhs, dervishes, ascetics and wanderers, especially that Sufism, like no other religious teaching, paid specific attention to clothing, emphasising symbolic role of its details.

The enthusiasm about Sufism among Herat court manifested itself in a change in late Herat court attire that became simpler, and in abandoning gowns glistening with gold embroidery and gemstones and voluminous turbans, which were in fashion in the first half of the 15th century, Preference was given to modest vestments made of plainly coloured fabrics and small turbans wrapped in four turns. Navoi wrote:
Clothing was "an important outward symbol of Sufi life and had a great inner significance and profound symbolism" (3, p. 150). It was believed that clothes retain baraka - the energy (grace) of its owner, which is particularly strong in a saint or a ruler. The custom of handing over vestments when power was transferred from a former ruler to a new one, or by a saint to his disciple, meant that their blessing, baraka, was also given over to the recipient. Besides, vestments and headdress "represent the altered ego of human existence. With the Sufis, the change of clothing meant the change of personality. Martyr-mystic Al-Khallaj taunted his enemies by changing his attire frequently: sometimes he appeared as a warrior, sometimes as a scholar, and sometimes as a Sufi" (4, pp. 194-195). Burning one's enemy's clothes meant his physical extermination (4, pp. 194-195). Changing ones usual clothing into pauper's rags marked the rejection of earthly pleasures and taking the path of mystic unification with God. For instance, Majnun, who was traditionally perceived as a Sufi character, when changing his rich clothing of the Chieftain's son that he wore while being the Kaiys into khirka and long, and having refused wearing his headdress (turban), baring his head and growing his hair long, has turned into a dervish who voluntary rejected temptations of this world in the name of supreme love for God (Laili).

With time Sufistic renunciation of richness and luxury of the master class transformed into the cult of poverty as an ideal state "fgr saving one's soul". Preaching non-money-grubbing and voluntary poverty resulted in the appearance of a teaching about tavvakul (hope upon something Arabic), which in essence meant that one should completely rely on God without caring for one's daily bread. A Sufi was supposed to make a living either by working or beggary, but alms should be collected only for one day in order not to break the rules of tawakul (5, pp. 316-317).

Judging by the miniatures, in the second half of the 15th century Sufi sheikhs wore clothing of a general Temurid type that consisted of an undershirt, pants, upper dress called kaba and an upper gown, complemented with simple shoes and a turban. The costume differed from secular dress in fabric quality, length, width and some specific details, as well as in colour. Having borrowed types and kinds of clothing from a Muslim costume, the Sufis introduced their own symbolism into it.

Miniatures portray a Sufi sheikh of the time in question wearing loose (as opposed to secular close fitting cut) plainly coloured, long (ankle length) upper gowns of modest colouring: brown, deep-green, deep- and light-blue. Gown length was an indication of the verity of faith. The longer the gown, the "more complete one's faith in God" (4). Sometimes kaba shows through, also one-colour and without any decoration, like embroidery. Sleeves of the upper gowns and kaba are very wide (whereas secular nobility wore gowns with a narrow wrist). Sleeve width meant that Sufis did not retain any earthly goods in them (formerly, sleeves that were wide from the Caliphate time, served as bags that could hold books, money and other things). Instead of a huge, voluminous white turban - the main distinction of a sheikh costume, they wore a turban of a more modest proportions compared to the first half of the 15th century: one end hangs by the left ear, and the other runs under the neck, goes up to the top of the turban and hangs down reaching left shoulder. Now the merit of a sheikh is no longer measured by the size of his turban, but by his personal spiritual achievements.

Key distinctive attributes of a sheikh were shoulder-worn cloak-scarf called tailasan, and a tall staff. Already since the time of the Caliphate tailasan was worn by scholars and clergy, but during the period in question it becomes an essential attribute of a Sufi sheikh, symbolizing his connection to a secret knowledge and playing an important signature role, as the key semiotic meaning of a Sufi costume was transferred to it. M. Gorelik was the first who paid attention to this element of a clerical costume and noted various ways of wearing tailasan and how its colour changed in Maverannahr costume of mid 16th century, yet he did not offer any explanation to this phenomenon (6, p. 62).

In Khorasan, judging by late Herat miniatures, in the late 15th and early 16th century tailasan was white, light-blue, grey, deep-green or sandy-brown, like the one in Maverannahr. If tailasan was brown, blue or green, its rim bore a wide black stripe. The ends of a white tailasan could be embroidered (7, ill. on p. 50, p. 106; 2, p. 120). It was worn as a scarf: over ones shoulders, either tied in a knot on a chest, or with one end hanging over the chest and the other thrown over to the back (7, ill. on pp. 122, 136, 152, 162, etc.). Having borrowed tailasan from the traditional Muslim clerical costume, Sufis put their own meaning into it. It appears to the author that different colours and wearing style of tailasan were supposed to play certain semiotic role, indicating the degree of a Sufi's initiation, and to be understood only by the initiated ones. An important feature in the costume of a Sufi sheikh was a staff that completed the image. Late Temurid miniature portrays old Sufi men holding a staff in their hands. According to Vasifi, Jami carried a willow staff one quarter taller than his own height (8). Some miniatures and a famous portrait by Makhmud Muzzahib also picture Alisher Navoi with a staff in his hands, and some researchers interpreted it as a sign of old age. "Astaff or a rod in Sufism was a symbol of power and a sign of leadership, which possessed a living energy capable of doing wonders. During a Friday prayer imam in a mosque carried a rod as an indication of his authority. Many Sufi teachers carry a rod, sometimes even several rods, or a pole" (4). When picturing a staff in the hands of Jami and Navoi, Bekhzad and the artists of his school emphasize their special spiritual power in the society. As footwear, sheikhs wore wooden sandals (2, p. 63) orshoes.

The clothing of dervishes is particularly interesting in terms of its semiotic meaning. A dervish, the poor ascetic and mystic who did not possess any personal property, wandering or living in a dervish hostel khanaka (zaviya, takiya),was a professional Sufi. These dervishes were also called fakir, from the word "pauper". They existed along with the Sufis who did not abandon their craft or trade.

The main semiotic sign of a dervish was khirka. Based on the miniatures we can assume that in those times it was a gown or another garment made of wool. Texts contain no information as to how khirka looked like; it is only mentioned that it was sewn of the shreds of clothing that Sufis tore in ecstasy when performing their ritual and was therefore believed to be particularly blessed as it bore "the power of ecstatic state of its former wearer" (4). "Sufis developed a meaningful symbolism of not only tunica, but also of its elements such as sleeve edge and collars", noted Annemarie Schimmel referring to Al-Khujviri (4).

15th century miniatures and portraits picture dervishes in different situations: begging at the threshold of a mosque, engaged in an argument about law in Islam, wandering, begging for alms, and so on, which allows identifying certain distinctions in their attire.

Representatives of extreme Sufism were ascetics and hermits. Hermitship, zukhd, goes back to an early stage of Sufism when its primary essence was ascetic rejection of the world, and renunciation of wealth and comfort (5).

Majnun is a popular character as a Sufi hermit. He is always pictured wearing either a lang or a deep-blue attire without sleeves over a naked body. Therefore, khirka could be either with or without sleeves. Its main feature is patches of different colours. However, due to conventionality of miniature and its court orientation, despite certain realism of details, an artist could not always picture rags and patches on a khirka so much talked about in literature. Medieval dictionaries refer to these patches as hastavonalhustuvona (9, pp. 103-104). An artist, without disrupting an overall image and decorative order of miniature painting, shoes rags as spots of darker or lighter colour on the basic colour of the gowns.

Another category of dervishes shown in miniatures are wanderers. They stand out by their clothing: pants are white or coloured, short kaba girdled with a sash; attached to the sash are a knife, sometimes a book in a holder, and a vessel to collect alms called kashkul. According to farkhang, 14-15 century Persian dictionaries, this short garment for begging dervishes was called kaval or dala (9, p. 104). Across his chest the wanderer wore wrapped praying rug or a cloak, and on his head was a tall conic hat, kulokh, made of fur, fabric or felt. His feet were bare or shod in shoes and a wrapping of coarse fabric called jumjum or cham/char (9, p. 107), soft felt boots or shoes (kafsh). "The aim of a wandering dervish is pilgrimage. One should not hit the road without a patched cloak (to conceal ones' nudity), a praying rug, a dipper (for lavabo), a rope, a pair of shoes (kafsh) and a staff (10). In case of a wandering dervish a staff has different semantics - now it is the means of protection and is shorter than the one of a sheikh.

Clothing and headdress worn by dervishes on miniatures are diverse. One of them, for example, has a deep-brown gown, short felt boots, a cloak across his shoulder, a turban coloured in different shades of brown on his head, and two sashes, one of which is twisted around the main one (7, p. 107). Another wears several garments (a shirt and two kuou) and a sash with a square buckle at the front, and upon his head is a felt hat wrapped twice with a piece of cloth (7, p. 85). In a miniature showing a funeral, a dervish wears a deep-green gown underneath which there is a blue striped kaba; a black felt hat is worn deep upon his forehead (7, p. 87). One important detail should be noted that makes their attire distinct from the one of sheikhs: dervishes' gowns are shorter and closer fitting and the sleeves are narrower. These details indicate that dervishes have not yet reached "complete faith". Sometimes begging dervishes are pictured either in green ;own, white tailasan and a sash made of leopard skin, or in a brown gown, a turban, grey tailasan and shoes worn on bare feet (7, p. 92).

The 16th century "Portrait of a Dervish" (7, ill. on p. 176) performed in a more realistic manner, shows a dervish clad in two gowns: the upper winter gown is grey and made of coarse, thick wool (farang refer to such gown as hastavonalhustuvona, same as to the patches) (9, pp. 103-104); underneath there is a light-blue gown made of finer fabric that resembles coloured calico in texture. The under-dress is white, and his head is crowned with a felt pointed hat, nomadi, around which a coarse woollen turban, kurchuk, is wrapped and tied across with a small turban of two turns. According to the vakf text of Khusein Khorezmi compiled in Samarqand in the 16th century, dervish's clothing included four regular gowns - two for winter and two for summer, two shirts, two pants, one taffeta turban 5 zar long, a reddish-brown cotton sash and two pairs of kafsh made of hide turned inside out (11, p. 72).

In our view, this diversity in dervishes' clothing and headdresses and the variety of colour have to do with the multitude of dervish orders. It is known that each order had its own ritual and symbols associated with elements of clothing, its colour and accessories (for instance, with the Bektash, the symbols of dervish-hood were khirka, a carpet, a banner, a drum, a rope, a staff and a headdress or taj - crown). Each colour has its own semiotics that was different in every order. "Each order had its own colour symbolism in Sufi attire. Red was preferred by Badaviya order in Egypt; green - by Gadriya order, and members of Khishti order in India wore colours that varied between brown and reddish-yellow. Sufis of Bektash order wore white clothes, white hat and black cloak" (4), and representatives of Naqshbandi order wore clothes of sandy-yellow colour (5, p. 345). According to the interpretation offered by A. Schimmel, different colours used in Sufi costume "are only a reflection of the invisible Divine colour that needs certain media to become visible" (4). However, colour symbolism of Sufi attire portrayed in miniatures is yet to be studied.

We can only note that according to Sufistic colour symbolism developed in Kubraviya order, each colour represented the attainment by a Sufi a certain level on the path of knowing God. Light-blue is for true confidence (ikari), deep-blue is for God's mercy and grace (ekhsan), green for sustainable poise (itminari)... (4, 5, pp. 20-21). Brown colour is associated with tree bark or layer of earth that conceal the secret knowledge. According to another version, light-blue colour meant the first stage on the path of knowing God, or shariat; yellow was for the second stage or tarika; red was for the third stage, the mystic knowledge; and white indicated the fourth stage, the true reality. According to Sufistic symbolism, black denoted passionate love for God and ecstatic confusion (khanaman). Thus one can assume that through colour and its combination in picturing clothing a miniature artist tries to show religious characteristics of Sufis, giving a kind of an indication of their spiritual progress on the path of mystic cognition of God. As "Sufis were usually initiated to several Sufi brotherhoods, yet adhering to one order" (12; 4), this may explain colour diversity of their garments.

During the initiation of a dervish a special role was given to a turban and a sash. Girdling with a sash - and in the miniatures it is always the sash that Sufi wears - indicated that he is ready to perform his duties before the teacher, pir. The number of knots on a sash and a turban on the head signalled that the dervish had mastered essential professional skills and was prepared for the life of a Sufi. Usually in the miniatures a sash made of coloured fabric is twisted into a braid and tied in two knots at the front. Judging by the pictures, a turban on dervish's head is either small and closely fitted to kulokh, or wrapped in two turns around felt nomadi hat (7. ill. on p. 176). Sufi headdress differed in shape and colour, indicating the position of its wearer. Symbolically, headdress meant grace given by God, therefore, when a sheikh presented a Sufi with a headdress, especially turban that played a polysemantic role in Islam, was a semiotic sign of blessing from a mentor and recognition of the recipient's achievements.

Late Temurid miniatures portraying sheikhs and dervishes, despite the conventionality of the painting style, show important differences in their attire and accessories, thus confirming observations made by researchers of Sufism that "clothing and its elements were important signs indicating dervish's status, and his every step from the moment of joining the order was marked by a particular detail in his clothing (3). Notably, Sufis did not introduce anything new to the attire: the gown, tailasan, sash-belt, turban and kulokh, felt hats - all these were part of medieval Muslim costume, and even khirka had already existed as pauper's rags before they appeared. Sufis only changed its semantics, filling it with new content, and through its details they revealed their views, and for the initiated ones their clothing and its details became an indicator and an important sign of sharing a Sufi's mystic secret, an indication of a certain stage on his path...

The role of clothing and its significance in the life of Muslim society, especially of Sufis, are reflected in metaphors commonly known in medieval Muslim East: vestment of kindness, vestment of piety, "clothes is sharia that rectifies ugly features of character in a thinking soul", and others (4).

Studying external attributes of Sufism such as clothing and its details, and symbolism and semantics of colour as reflected in miniature painting, enable one, apart from visual representation, "to know something very important about Sufism, namely that outward behaviour is an integral part of mystic tradition", as Annemarie Schimmel, the prominent researcher of Sufism, put it.

Zukhra Rakhimova


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