Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Suleyman the Magnificent: Birthday Celebrations - Part 3

Grand Sultan Bayazid ll advanced in great stealth towards the Great Hall. He gestured his Janissaries to silence. Imam Kemal Pasha whom he himself had created Pasha was reciting the holy prayers from the Qur’an.

That was thoughtful of my grandson Suleyman to invite me to his birthday celebration. No doubt Princess Hafsa is aware of it .She might even be the principal artificer. Never mind. My sons and grandsons presume to think on my behalf. They are convinced I am not interested in attending their natal days and that an invitation might bring on my irritation or worse. How little they know me! All of them are so preoccupied with outdoing and
killing each other to realize that I am still THE Sultan. Selim has great powers because I have granted him those powers due to his intelligence and his military prowess. It breaks my heart that he has chosen to snub me on this day of all days.

Kumaruddin, one of his loyal Janissaries, a Serbian officer from Belgrade stood on his tiptoes for Bayazid was nearly two meters tall and whispered, "Your Majesty are we to wait here in the hallways and corridors until the Imams have said their prayers?”

“As quietly and as reverently as possible. And then our procession shall enter the Great Hall with trumpets blaring and flutes declaring our joy - the moment the Sufi youth Sut Karash has finished reciting his poem,” he replied.

Major Kamaruddin was fond of Sultan Bayazid. He felt a sense of awe just being next to him for Bayazid was the son of Mehmet the Conqueror. Yes! None other. The Sultan who had laid the siege on Constantinople for nearly a year and then blasted with well placed bombs a breach in its thick walls and entered the city as
the Victor that he was and always would be. Now it was known as Istanbul, the Sublime Porte.

I remember the birth of Suleyman. It was Kamaruddin, then a courier who rode out from Trebzond to Istanbul to give me the news on behalf of Princess Hafsa. Our own Arab and Mongol astrologers, the Persians, the Judeans and even the Christian learned men had all agreed that his birth date showed an extraordinary confluence of planets; all in harmony towards each other.

“The Sufi is nearly finished. I entered his room and memorized his poem so that we would not err on the timing,” Kamaruddin told the Sultan who smiled and said nothing except pat his approval on his wrist.

“All 15 torches are lit? All golden trumpets as shiny as prisms? Baritone and bass singers from the Corps of Engineers ready? Are we prepared? The 191 men nodded.

“We are, Your Majesty,” Kamaruddin voiced their reply.

“Good. Follow me ten paces behind for 90 seconds and then form a loose protective circle around me. Remember to put on happy faces and relax all your fighting muscles. Allahu Akbar.”

The reigning Sultan Bayazid could not have chosen a better moment for making his splendid entrance. There was a pause in the tower, perhaps just a few seconds after Sud Karash’s poem
and he had, so to speak penetrated that pause.

“Salam Aleikum to you all but most of all to my dear grandson Suleyman,” Sultan Bayazid’s mighty voice resonated through out.

All the guests in the tower and the staff in the Great Hall answered his greeting as loudly as they could and in the same spirit of happiness in which Bayazid ll had declared.
“Aleikum Salam, Your Majesty.”

Bayazid ll only heard the lilting sound, which emanated from his most favored grandson.
“Aleikum Salam to you Babba Bayazid! You came for my celebration. Oh! Thank you, dear Babba Bayazid,” exclaimed Suleyman leaping off the steps of the tower two at a time.

“Suleyman stop! My engineers have devised and perfected a net made of the lightest linen, which has eight times the tensile strength of iron. Men can jump into it unhurt from great heights when they would be otherwise trapped in a fire or outnumbered by their foes. This one is for you and for your men to use in martial practice. So…take a flying leap into the net. Keep in mind that it will make your body bounce so do not fight the direction in which you are pulled, follow it instead and you will be unhurt. In that way I shall embrace you much more quickly,” he urged his grandson in a voice, which could charm serpents.

Suleyman gazed down. At least 12 strong officers held up the net over their shoulders directly below him. He stepped on the railing, which stood just below his waist and let himself go into a free fall into nothing but air.

“Heee Ya!” he whooped as the magnetic forces pulled him down.

“I am not afraid for my son. Sultan Bayazid would never risk his life for anything in the world. He might do it on the battlefield; both he and Selim frequently place him in the thick of the fighting. On the other hand they are also where the struggle is most dangerous.

My father has outdone, outsmarted and outfoxed me yet again. I had no intentions of inviting him. How could I have overlooked the affection Suleyman feels for him? If he had displayed more attention towards me when I was a child I may not resent and hate him so much. To be fair, he has favored me as the leading Sultan among his thirty sons, so he has shown me some attention. Perhaps his love for Suleyman may also have influenced him in this decision? I won’t delve into it. I have power second only to him and in time I am planning to change that.

Suleyman did not cease whooping and cheering even as he landed and continued to bounce several times before the men lowered the net into the floor. “It’s wonderful Babba Bayazid. Ibrahim and my men and I could spend hours perfecting our balance on this,” he said running into his grandfather’s open arms.

"You gave one or more of these nets to Babba too haven’t you? Please don’t hurt his feelings any more than you have to," he pleaded on his father’s behalf.

“I gave your father twelve of these nets two months ago. Concentrate on acquiring skills and knowledge of yourself and others. You have no reason to be concerned for your parents. Now let us get on with your party.”

Sultan Bayazid lifted his head. Everyone was still standing in the tower waiting for his orders.
“Stay please. I shall come to you.” With Suleyman by his side he slowly walked up the steps to the tower. He began addressing them in a confident and self-assured voice as he did so.

“Selim and Hafsa, my most happy greetings."

"Imam Kemal Pasha, Imam Malik, Master Mordechai, Fra Domenico and Sufi Sut Karash please receive my loftiest salutations. Thank you all for your warm participation in these celebrations."

"Ibrahim, I think you and the other young Turks will enjoy perfecting your balancing prowess on the net."

"Lady Maryam, you shall always have my most cordial sentiments."

"This is Lady Hurrem I presume? Welcome to Istanbul. I believe you will honor us with a song after the Princess Mother and the Sultan by my grace pronounce some memorable words on this occasion.”

Major Kamaruddin followed ten paces behind them. The 191 engineers, musicians and officers remained below in casual attention.

Sultan Selim simply said "A marvelous fifteenth birthday to you Suleyman my son. May God look favorably on all my prayers regarding you,” he said.

By the beard of the Prophet, I can’t think of anything more to say. That bastard, my Father, has the capacity to remove the wind out of my sails even
without trying, he grumbled silently.

"Thank you Grand Sultan Bayazid for the time and the effort to honor us with your presence and assist at this all important occasion of our son’s 15th birthday. I am aware that many cultures and civilizations honor the day a boy and a girl turn fifteen,” declared Princess Hafsa unable to contain the emotion in her voice.

This is the very first time as far as I know, that a reigning Sultan has attended the celebrations of any of his too numerous to count grandsons. I know it was Suleyman who invited him, because my son confided this to me. The Sultan is happy beyond belief, unlike Selim who is almost foaming at the mouth. I think this is a bad omen, but Suleyman is aware of the conflict between father and son, she could not help quavering inwardly.

Suleyman wound his arms around his Grandfather and his Father. “I can’t believe I am having such a happy birthday with my Father and Grandfather next to me. But, Babba Bayazid you have not made any statement,” declared Suleyman gazing intently into his grandfather’s slate gray eyes.

“I have Habibi (my loved one in Arabic). My presence speaks volumes. The trumpets, kettledrums and flutes will presently declare it in a clear message. Now it is up to you to decipher it’s meaning,” he replied chuckling loudly.

“Strike up the band," commanded Major Kamaruddin.
The trumpets played softly, then a solo flute trilled, and then padded hands struck the kettledrums. The chorus, which was composed of the finest singers and fighters in Sultan Bayazid’s army, began chanting. “Suley-Suleyman. Suley- Suleyman. Suley-Suleyman.”

“Why that is what I composed for Suleyman earlier this afternoon. I can’t believe my ears. It sounds majestic with all the instruments arranged just so and the chorus of fine male voices. How did they…

"Suleyman’s the culprit," Lady Maryam informed Hurrem. “He liked it and sang a few bars to the Grand Sultan who found the melody lovely. He instructed Major Kamaruddin to incorporate it into the musical arrangement they had prepared for Suleyman.”

The composition was brief but much appreciated by Suleyman. This is a party not a concert, thought he.

Hurrem was handed a golden lyre. I thought I was to sing a Capella. I understand. The presence of the Grand Sultan Bayazid has changed the best-laid plans of the Princess Mother and of Suleyman. She begun to tune it but discovered that its tone was perfection. She quickly gazed at Suleyman who smiled in a conspiratorial way. Aha, he tuned it for me to save me the embarrassment of doing it in front of all this personages on the day of his birthday and mine. This is to be my Baptism of Fire so I must not allow myself to be rushed or distracted, she reflected coolly.

"In Istanbul the Sublime Porte there lives a young Prince destined for great things so the sages say,” she sang in a high and limpid voice.

“The young Prince is Suley-Suleyman. Suley-Suleyman. Suley-Suleyman”.

“God has given Suley-Suleyman a loving Mother.”

“God has favored Suley-Suleyman with a caring Father.”

“God has further granted Suley-Suleyman an affectionate Grandfather.”

“God continues to watch over Suley-Suleyman with the most spiritual men on this realm.”

From Hurrem, your newly found friend, I pray God gifts you a long and victorious life.”

Hard clapping, beating of the kettledrums, 15 torches held aloft by Sultan Bayazid’s officers. By means of special maneuvers, they spelt the name of Suleyman in Arabic using only the ends of their lit torches. More applause. Trumpets signaled a delightful event.

"It’s time to cut the cake. The first plate goes to my Grandfather, the second and third I offer at the same time to my Mother and Father, to show them that I love them both equally."
That is not true. I love my Mother first and foremost. But my Father’s heart and mood are darkened by the presence of his father, the real Ruler of our Empire, who also happens to be my Grandfather. Why provoke his cruel streak needlessly? He ruminated win silence..

“The rest of you are welcome to cut as much or as little of it as you wish for yourselves. You can wash it all down with chilled rose water, a libation of scarlet oranges or lime water with mint leaves,” declared Suleyman.

“What is this strange looking eating utensil in gold beside the small spoon on the cake?’ asked Sultan Selim.

“Aah! That is known as a forchetta – fork. Catherine de Medici took it along as part of her dowry when she left Florence to marry King Henry of France. My Christian tutor Prince Ludovico Gritti brought it from Venice; he believes it might well be an invention of the great and unique Leonardo. (da Vinci) Princess Mother Hafsa chuckled and told the assembled guests.

“Well now, the French are always so conceited and full of themselves. Is it perhaps a way of coping with the inescapable fact that the Renaissance began in Florence, continued on to Rome and Venice, whilst they wallowed in their ignorance and love of luxury? Imagine this, a young Florentine gir, an upstart Medici.l swimming in gold florins, ducats and dinars has taught them the art of eating by introducing the fork into the court.”

“Hooray to Master Ludovico for bringing it to our attention. The affairs of the Ottoman state have kept him in Venice. We shall remember him without fail when it is time to make the toasts,” said Suleyman.

Sultan Bayazid cleared his throat. “Habibi, may I make an announcement while we are enjoying this cake which seems to have been made in Paradise?

"Certainly Babba Bayazid. You are our Ruler,” replied Suleyman.

“I have decided to mount a series of military campaigns against the Mamluks in Egypt and Syria. I have tasked my best and brightest son Selim to enlarge our Navy. He has suggested that it should be based in North Africa.”

Frenzied cheering took place.

Sultan Bayazid raised his richly embroidered robe heavily encrusted with lapis lazuli and coral gemstones. The cheering ceased.

“This will be a unique campaign for I would like to have all the religious clerics present here tonight to accompany me. As well, the Princes Selim and Jubal will have their own armies.

Again Jubal? I detest him, thought Selim. I never understood the reason why my cruel Mother loved him and my sisters and never loved me. I hope he dies! Sultan Selim wished with full awareness of what he was doing.

The Grand Sultan went on. ”Suleyman and the Princess Hafsa will be a most welcome addition to my retinue. As usual i am counting on Master Mordechai to continue as my personal physician. His daughter Lady Maryam  is respected and trusted by the women of our various entourages. thus she will look after all of them. One last point, Lady Hurrem can sing and play like an angel. She is therefore invited to join Princess Hafsa's staff. She will calm our savage hearts.”

The Hurrahs begun in earnest. “Mater, did you hear Babba Bayazid? We are to be part of his retinue. I remember the last campaign to Egypt. I was wounded in the shoulder by a Mamluk arrow. Thankfully it was only a flesh wound and the medicines of Master Mordechai induced healing faster.”

“Yes, I heard Suleyman. You must never talk about your wounds for I remember them all down to the last detail. God’s will be done.”

The Grand Sultan Bayazid gazed at his grandson and at the assembled guests. He was glad that he had chosen this day and this moment to announce the campaigns against the Mamluks and the Kaffirs. The army was restive and his sons too restless. The rigors of war and the constant dangers present in the battles would calm their rage towards each other. He was particularly thinking of Selim.

“We deploy in 14 days from tonight. I bid you all a good night. Suleyman may Allah bless and protect you on this and on every day of what I pray will be a long life,” he said enveloping him into his massive chest.

"I am grateful for your thoughts and prayers Babba Bayazid."

The Grand Sultan disengaged himself from his grandson and approached Sultan Selim.

“Selim, my son, come to see me soonest. We need to discuss strategies and tactics,” he said taking him into his arms and hugging him.

“Consider it done Babba. Goodnight,” he replied making an effort to appear glad at the news.
Sultan Bayazid greeted everyone in the tower taking care to bid a special leave for all the holy men and for Princess Mother Hafsa. He gave Lady Maryam and and Hurrem a huge smile. “Please continue the festivities. Salam Aleikum,” he said dashing down the wooden steps of the circular tower as if his imaginary (for the time being) pursuers would overtake him.

“Please continue with the celebrations. One’s youth must be enjoyed but not misspent,” he declared.

His well-disciplined Janissaries, Corps of Engineers, builders and the band of fighters and musicians lifted their right arms high in salute, there was a visible pause then their arms were slowly brought down over their chests and towards their hearts. They all swirled at the same time. They faced the massive bronze doors of the Great hall. They opened ranks. Sultan Bayazid walked alone and tall until he was out of the door. Soundlessly, the 191 men with 15 of them still carrying the 15 symbolic torches padded out of the Great hall one by one following their Serasker – Commander in Chief.

I hate my father. Selim bit his tongue. I dare not reprimand Suleyman for inviting him. This is Hafsa’s Villa. I will bring down her wrath as well as his. I cannot risk losing Suleyman’s love and Hafsa’s esteem. I will need to stifle my hatred if I wish for my plans to succeed. Stealth and cunning are needed. I calculate that in five years time at the latest, ideally three I shall devise a foolproof plan to depose my father.

Suleyman was in agony but his face was a mask of mirth.
I have looked into my father’s heart. I will not allow any harm to befall my Grandfather, he vowed quietly. His friends and guests begun to dance and frolic.

“Come on Suleyman. Let us partake of the good food, the cake and the libations (albeit without alcohol) for tomorrow is another day,” Sut Karash urged him.

“I too must go, my son,” said Sultan Selim in a hoarse whisper. "Your grandfather is right. The evening belongs to you young people."

“Thank you Babba for everything. I love you,” Suleyman told him with simplicity.

“I love you too,” he replied unsure whether he truly meant it. He knew he cared for Suleyman and perhaps that was all that he was capable of.

“I’ll walk with you until we reach the courtyard.”

“No. No. Please enjoy your party. You truly deserve it. I must take leave of your Mother before anything else and then like your Grandfather, I shall bid all the religious men a heartfelt farewell.”

Hurrem had observed everything and locked it away in her heart. “Suleyman is doing what my father advised me to do. “Buon viso a cattiva sorte.” Put on a good face to an unpleasant or bad occurrence.

Suleyman watched his father and his entourage of Janissaries dressed in rich brocaded Bordeaux walk imperiously towards the bronze door.

“My son, whatever emotions are coursing through your veins, ignore them for tonight. The solace of sleep and the light of day will give you a different perspective,” affirmed his Mother who, clearly was preparing to leave soon with Lady Maryam and Hurrem. My mother is right as always. No one must know how I feel. The time is not yet right.

He held her in a long and affectionate embrace. “You know how much I care about you. I have always known that you loved no one more than I,” he murmured.

“All true Suleyman. Goodnight. I hope you will come for an intimate dinner the day after tomorrow.”

“Mater, your invitations are my command.”

She felt a less heavy weight upon her. Whenever he addressed her as Mater she knew his good mood had returned.
Lady Maryam pecked him on the cheek and said, ”It was a very important 15th birthday party.”

He was beginning to feel more than friendship for Hurrem. Again, no one must be the wiser. Again, the time was not even close to what he and especially his Mother would define as ripe.

“Hurrem, I hope you enjoyed your first important fete in Istanbul. I promise you there will be many more. You dazzled everyone, especially me with your music. I am so happy that my Grandfather has decided to include you in my Mother’s entourage. I hope you are not too frightened by the prospect of being a part of a military campaign.”

“On the contrary there will be much to learn. I shall try not to worry too much about Princess Mother Hafsa and you. The campaign in Egypt and Syria will afford me the opportunity of practicing Arabic while in the field.”

In reality she was terrified at the idea of War. I tremble already at the gruesome fate of soldiers and of people, she thought.
Hurrem walked beside Princess Hafsa. Her gelid hands sent stabs of pain through out her hands. Involuntarily she began to massage them. Princess Hafsa noticed but said nothing.

Suleyman observed his Mother and Hurren until they stepped through the threshold of the arched hallway. He sighed without realizing it. 

"With so much happening all at once, I forgot to give Hurrem the gold calligraphy set which I  ordered for myself. Never mind. I shall have another set made. Perhaps I shall stop by tomorrow to give it to her. Oh! I am spending the night at the harem with Gulbahar - Rose of Spring. That means that I shall be late for my visit to the harem. Music must always come before Lust. So be it.  And then he recalled the words of an Islamic Murshid.

”To serve one’s spirit so as to permit neither joy nor sorrow within, but to consider the inevitable as the appointment of destiny and to remain serene, there is the perfection of virtue.”


  1. "his birth date showed an extraordinary confluence of planets; all in harmony towards each other."

    That wording was probably shorthand for readers uninstructed in serious astrology, but it still might warrant a slight alteration or footnote: An astrological chart with mostly "harmonious" aspects tends not to correlate with extraordinary deeds, because life becomes too easy for the native. For example a clergyman with a grand trine (harmony) between Sun, Mercury and Jupiter might be a very cheerful and inspiring preacher about "the Power of Positive Thinking", but not a great theologian or reformer like Luther or Francis of Assisi.
    The ones who really get things done are those with hard aspects in their charts, ie, internal tensions and complexities.

    On that note, I've just looked up Charles Fawcett's birthdate. (I could do more with an exact time, but the date is a good start.) December 2, 1915. Let's look at his planets:

    Ah, unsurprisingly, his male planets, the Sun and Mars, are making no hard aspects, so he wasn't particularly afflicted by masculine issues, to say the least.
    Manly things came easy to him. And there's a mystic signature, a trine between his Sun/Mercury and Neptune = religious "harmony" quite literally. Well that's no surpise.

    But then his feminine planets are a mess. Moon square Saturn indicates a tendency (perhaps endured silently) toward emotional depression, a pattern of loss of nuturing female figures, and Venus in Capricorn closely opposite Pluto intensifies this - beloved women keep disappointing or disappearing one way or the other. But then his more "harmonious" male planets enable him to find fulfillment in his heroism.

    But if his masculine AND feminine planets were all harmonious, then he probably would have been content
    to be a family man who does a lot of amateur sport and writes adventure novels. But as domestic bliss tended to elude him for most of his life - or at least the first half - he was impelled to
    find fulfillment not through domestic or connubial bliss, nor through children, but by doing heroic deeds out in the real world.

    Mind you, the moral content of those deeds always depends on free will. Hitler had the potential to be a force for great good in the world, but chose to pervert his talents, and Charles Fawcett could have chosen to be a venal mercenary.

    A more ambivalent exemplar is Richard Nixon, who could have been a lot better OR worse - a semi-tragic figure of whom Bob Dole said, "God damn you, Richard Nixon, for depriving us of Richard Nixon."

  2. PS, Arnold Scwarzenegger does NOT have an easy Mars. He has a very hard aspect, Mars-Saturn. Saturn is weight and Mars is iron - literally, "lifting weights", pumping iron. So his hard aspect to Mars provoked him to overcompensate by building his muscles to the point of caricature.

    But his being a flaming asshole is his own fault.

  3. John:
    In reference to Suleyman the Magnificent's astrological chart, in the Renaissance and particularly in 16th century Islamic/ Muslim times, the word harmonious was used to refer to the fact that all the omens indicated that a great Leader was born. He would be, under certain aspects The Greatest Conqueror the world would ever know. In spite of his power of instant death over any subject he would exercise restraint and display compassion towards his enemies. That is the Oriental way of expressing Harmony, the Light triumphs over the Blackness.

    Contessa Isabella Vacani

  4. Isabel,

    Thanks for that lesson! Now you've taught me something about astrology which most of the best Western astrologers don't know!

    And the kind of "harmony" which you have explained above, reminds me of a story which was told to me by a Sufi Sheikh. (I never became his disciple - I never became a Dervish - because it just wasn't right for me, and he agreed that it wasn't right for me to become a Dervish - yet he taught me, because he knew I would benefit from his teaching.)

    He told me a story - a story he wrote himself - about Satan and many deeds Satan did. And to make a long story short, at the very end of the story, God tells Satan that
    Satan was, is, and always will be, God's instrument. And then Satan is glad to hear it - not "proud", but happy. That story was just one of many, myriad Sufi stories - just one inflection of the same essential story - of how, in the long run, "all is harmony" - and in the end, there will be harmony even between God and Satan (NOT between God and Evil), because evil is precisely "unreality."

    (Suffering is not "unreality", but evil is.)

    In THAT sense, I understand exactly what you mean by the Oriental way of expressing "harmony". All that is Real, is harmonious, and all that is not real resides in the eternal outer-darkness - and thus, even Satan, or what is real in Satan, belongs to God and God's music, yes even "now".

    One bit of wisdom which many of the best Muslims understand better than many of even the best Christians, is that in the long run, in Eternity, even Satan will be saved, and Satan will submit to God FREELY, because all of God's creatures, including Satan (and Hitler etc) essentially yearn for God - and yes they will ultimately choose God's love freely (because Love IS freedom!) - yet their ultimate choice to love God is inevitable. Inevitable AND freely chosen! And that is a paradox which Islam understands better than any of the other Abrahamic faiths, the paradox of free will INEVITABLY CHOOSING to love God!

    (Digression: In light of the above, no one should think it too shocking to imagine that Heydrich might be a Saint, or that perhaps Heydrich MIGHT have entered Heaven long before Churchill will - and I say this as a great admirer of Churchill, and as one who believes Churchill was right to wage war in 1940. I believe Churchill was right to wage war - yet I think Heydrich's soul MIGHT be more saintly than Churchill's - because, as Jesus said, "Many of the first will be last, and the last will be first, in the Kingdom of God."


Isabel Van Fechtmann

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