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Death Traditions and Graveyards



A great majority of the people of Anatolia have remained under the influence of tradition. In the foundation of main behaviour models which forms traditional life of our people, ensuring them to possess specialty and formation however there lays numerous customs, beliefs and ethic operations. Such kind of practices so realised have shown variation and similarity from one region  to another region.

As in the case of the three important event of the life, a great number of beliefs, customs, tradition, ceremonies, rites, pattern behaviours, transactions have been also grouped around death. Such beliefs, customs, transactions, ceremonies and pattern behaviours which accumulated around the death and surrounded individuals with the death are collected under three groups. Sets of traditions formed as pre-death, during death and after death are explained briefly in the following.

Generally in  Anatolia, people who have been restless through pressure of fear of death in subconscious, also with desire to know about their future,  have considered a certain amount of unusual behaviours, use of tools and apparatuses in this and that way, meteorological phenomena, action and voices of animals, images in dreams as well as psychological and physiological changes in patients usually as prediction of death. In beliefs of people, among symptoms that predict death, which related with animals, have been  taking   a great and important  place. Some talents of animals, which are absent in human beings, their power of intuition, physical characteristics, their consideration of being fortunate or ill-omened have been playing great role in creation of such beliefs and their reaching a universal line. Basically there lays also fear of death on the foundation of a certain amount of beliefs which are accumulated around home, household, tool, apparatuses and food; and they have been qualified by people usually as symptoms of death. Such natural phenomena as eclipse of the Moon and the Sun, flight of a shooting star, a flash of lightning, thunder, etc. have been construed usually as the prediction of death according to beliefs of people. Assortment of images taking shape subconsciously having been also supported by a number of symbolic associations have been generally and widely  construed as the sign of death for both the person who dreamed and  his/her relatives.        

The most natural type of announcement of events of death has occurred through crying of relatives of the deceased. Neighbours who hear the death have come together in the house of death try to share grief  of relatives of the deceased, to console them, to help them to do initial preparations. In villages, townships and small cities the most suitable way of announcement is to ask hodja to call people for a funeral service for deceased along with sending  messengers for communicating the incident  from house to house. To announce the incident by giving announcements through newspapers has been mostly witnessed in large cities. There are also  commercial organisations which undertake funeral affairs in great cities. They have also assumed the work  to give notices of death along with performance of necessary preparations for burial services.

While a part of transactions performed immediately after the death is directly related with corpse, some other part however has been gathered around the corpse. Such transactions which have been qualified as preliminary preparation for sending the death to the other world have been resulted from seeing the death as a living person and based on typical signs of fearing from the death, in some others hygienic considerations and religious traditions have been played a role.

Followings are the most seen transactions: Eyes of the death is closed, jaw is tied, head is turned to direction of Mecca, feet are come together, hands are laid side by side and on belly, all clothes are took off, in some places bed is changed, metallic articles such as knife, iron, etc. are put on abdomen of the deceased person, room in which the deceased person is present is cleaned up, room in which the deceased lays is illuminated, Koran is read at the bedside of the deceased.

Following performance of the said preliminaries, preparation which is necessary for both religious and traditional aspects is initiated. This preparation consists of three important operation; washing of corpse, wrapping in shroud and praying performed at the funeral. Anybody who died is prepared for burial as quick as possible. If a person died in the morning burial ceremony is performed at the time of afternoon prayer, if he/she died afternoon, corpse remains at that night and buried in the morning. Burial ceremony may be delayed for arrival of relatives who lived at distant places.

Another practice which has been exercised by the great majority of Anatolian people is however to wash the corpse before burial. Female corpses are washed by women washers, male corpses by male washers. Persons who perform this work are professional washers, hodjas, experienced washers, religious men/women, one of individuals in the house of death or among neighbours in case of absence of any professional person, and in same places deceased person’s loved ones upon his/her will.

Washing is carried out in washing rooms of cemeteries at great cities, at a  secluded corner of garden of house in villages.

The second procedure which is necessary for preparing corpse for burial is to shroud the corpse. Colour of shroud is white. Number of pieces is different for woman and man. This is also a tradition that has been implemented by the great majority of the people of Anatolia. Furthermore, there are different traditions.

The third phase is to perform prayer at the time of funeral. According to Muslim Religion a number of conditions are required to perform praying at the funeral. After praying performed at the time of funeral, coffin  is carried to cemetery by religious community. Dead person is laid in grave in the manner that his/her right hand side faces direction of Mecca. Dead person is buried in grave usually without coffin. However, sometimes dead person may be buried with coffin. It is a widespread practice to inscribe and cut epitaphs and signs on tombstones for the purpose of describing identity, sex, destiny of dead person.

In Anatolia there are certain days in which dead person has been commemorated through religious ceremony and meal. First of all comes the 40th day, 52nd day and anniversary  of dead person. Although it is very seldom, on the third and seventh days dead person has been also commemorated in a certain way. In fact, such days corresponding to certain numbers have become important due to  religious, magical and traditional qualifications brought therein; and gradually a number of customs have been inserted into their structure as a main element.

After the event of death the most significant and salient behaviour is however mourning by deceased  person’s relatives. Mourning is reactions felt, bewilderment, revolt and grief in anybody who loses his/her relative as the result of this event. Mourning in which we have been depending in respect to social, economical, biological and emotional aspects, grief that we have felt because of loss of a person, is a mere  human reaction.

Mourning is to express grief and sorrow felt upon the loss of people who are considered important for us by the community  and one of our relatives   within social patterns. Customs concerning mourning which is of a social nature, transactions related with these customs are exercised for the purpose of  avoidances, betrayal of the person felt grief, accustoming him to the new situation for a certain period, relieving his distress and gradually making him feel better. All around the World, both in primitive and high cultures a number of traditions and ceremonies, which have been practices for this purpose, have been witnessed.

Another practice performed after burial ceremony is the meal of dead person. This meal which consists of a significant portion of traditions and beliefs related with death has been emphasising that dead person is also in need of eating and drinking in the other world along with other things on the one part, and revealing the fact that transition ceremonies accompanying the event of death is necessary among people, on the other part. Because, in order that farewell of dead person to the other world is to be full and valid, along with religious rules and procedures, traditional incidents should also be fulfilled. Otherwise, it is believed that soul of dead person would disturb his relatives who are alive.   


Tombstones are the most beautiful examples expressing Turk’s rich inner world, fine taste, high thought with their structural features and with inscriptions cut thereon. These are such tombstones that they are sometimes a history, sometimes lament, and mostly a grievous and painful   echo felt via words of dead person. Personalities and identifications have been realised through their forms, inscriptions. Graveyards are museums, tombstones are however monuments of dead persons laying therein, evidence of their existence.

Personalities  are shown on tombstones of elderly dead persons, aspiration for being unsatisfied in the world on tombstones of those who died young. Some of them passed away by a natural death, some passed away unexpectedly. Goodness, beauties have been expressed on these tombstones with all sorrow, clarity. Some readers of these tombstones cry, some indulge in a deep thought. With this thought the real philosophy has been made beside that tombstone.

Traditions, customs, social structure of the community have been seen  on all of these tombstones. There are wishes, desires. Worthlessness of the World has been also realised through epitaphs on these tombstones. There are mystery of study, success in lines  on them. These tombstones had been called as “Balbal” by ancient Turks. “Balbal” had shown heroism  of the ancient Turks. Tombstones of today however have been revealing philosophy of life, feeling and thought, point of view on the universe, belief, global view of the same nation.

Tombstones are at the same time the beautiful examples of products of language. They are a rich treasury for linguists, historians, folklore activists, philosophers, man of letters; they are a great gift presented like a treasury. In brief, tombstones are pages of history, pages of literature coming from the past. Forgotten pages of history can also be seen on them.

Unfortunately, tombstones cannot also resist against time; they are losing their sovereignty in the war against time, disappearing in the nature. Race of contemporary civilisation   has been eliminating old graves by considering them even ancient.

We, human beings, however, are uninterested, unfaithful creatures. Somehow or other we fail to understand, do not want to understand that our future will same as the fate of tombstones which have been now experienced. Everyday we have been running away from them more than before, we have been severing from our past.

I say that the way that we could bid forgiveness, being excused from our past passes through examination of tombstones. Inscriptions which are available on Tombstones in İnegöl have been  compiled by myself within such feelings.



1st Picture: Balıkesir Edremit, Arıtaş Village
6th Picture: Amasya Taşova, Güvendik Village
7th Picture: Amasya Göynücek,Yukarı Çulpara Village
8th Picture: Aydın Bozdoğan, Alamut Village
9th Picture: Aydın Bozdoğan, Alamut Village
10th Picture: Uşak Eşme
11th Picture: Uşak Karahallı, Paşalar Village
12th Picture: Gaziantep
13th Picture: Gaziantep
14th Picture: Artvin, Binat Village
15th Picture: Balıkesir Edremit, Tahtakuşlar Village