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Nargile: A Puff On History

Turkish Daily News - March 3, 1997
 
One of the oldest and deep rooted traditions in Turkey is the Nargile (Hookah), with both men and women finding great pleasure in smoking the waterpipe. The nargile started a whole new culture which endured for many, many years. Even today the nargile gives enjoyment to a special breed of smokers.

The original nargile came from India, but it was rather primitive as it was made out of coconut shell. Its popularity spread to Iran and then to the rest of the Arab world. But it was in Turkey that the nargile completed its revolution, and did not change its style for the last few hundred years.

The nargile became a very important part of the coffee shop culture, finding its popularity in Turkey around the time of Murat the IV'th, 1623-40. The joy that the smokers received from this very simple yet beautiful smoking apparatus was unbelievable. Rules were created even for lighting the pipe, and if a professional smoker saw anyone lighting it the incorrect way, the culprit would be told in no uncertain term " Do yourself and the sacred nargile a favor and put out the coals by blowing into it."

The nargile itself consists of 4 pieces which are as follows: Agizlik (mouthpiece), L?le (the top of the nargile), Marpu? (the tube) and the G?vde (the body of the pipe which is filled with water). All pieces of the pipe were produced by special craftsmen, who were named after the pece they produced. Even today, the areas where these craftsmen used to concentrate are called by these names, such as "Marpu??ular."

L?les were generally produced in Tophane by Lule makers and the govde's (bottles) were manufactured in Beykoz. These govde's were a unique exaple of Turkish handcraft and were decorated with floral motifs. Some were made out of silver or crystal. The agizlik's (mouthpieces) were generally carved out of the top of quality amber, because people in those days believed that amber was not the carrier of germs.

Not all tobaccos qualified for usage in the nargile, and only the dark tobacco imported from Iran found favor with the nargile user. This toabcco was washed several times before use as it was extremely strong. Only oak charcoal was used to be placed on the top of the tobacco. Some professional nargile smokers used certain fruit, like sour cherries or grapes in their govde just to enjoy the motion it created in the water. Other people enjoyed adding pomegranate juice or rose oil to their water for added flavor.

The nargile smoker hated anyone lighting their cigarettes on their nargile fire because they felt it disturbed the rhythm of the burning charcoal. It was greatly frowned upon if anyone was seen lighting or smoking a nargile not according to the tradition.

The nargile was so popular and fashionable with the elite ladies of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, that it became the in thing to be photographed with a nargile. If you wanted to be the hostess with the mostest the nargile was a must for popular afternoon tea and intellectual gatherings.

Unfortunately like most wonderful things from the past, the nargile suffered a decline with the availability of the cigarettes. But still today, one is able to find a special type of smoker that would only find their enjoyment from smoking the nargile.