The Story of Nargile

Nargile, also known as hookah or sisha, is a waterpipe used to smoke tobacco which generally has been flavored and sweetened. The tradition of smoking flavoured molasses through waterpipes goes […]

Nargile, also known as hookah or sisha, is a waterpipe used to smoke tobacco which generally has been flavored and sweetened. The tradition of smoking flavoured molasses through waterpipes goes back many centuries. It’s said that they were originally invented in India. At first nargile was a simple structure made with a hollowed out coconut base and a straw. It was later introduced to Persian Kingdom. When the waterpipe arrived in Ottoman lands, it became very popular amongst members of the upper class and intellectuals. It continued to be a symbol of power and wealth for a long time. Smoking with the sultan was considered the highest honor.

Nargile became so popular that coffeehouses began to offer both coffee and waterpipes to customers. It became a very important part of coffeehouse culture. Ottoman coffehouses were cosmopolitan places and they served as sources of local information and gossip in the city. This is why both coffeehouses and nargile were seen as dangerous by the Ottoman Palace from time to time. Sultan Murad IV banned smoking on pain of death for 14 years. Sultan Abdul Hamid II, one of the most enthusiastic nargile smokers of the royal family, on the other hand used these information centers for his own benefit. He had many spies who spent their time in coffee shops in order to learn everything that was happening in the city.

Nargile lost its popularity after World War II, when people started to smoke cigarettes. Smoking nargile demanded a lot of time, on the other hand cigarettes were a perfect commodity to serve as replacement. It was an age of busy and competitive people, people who were always on the run. Cıgarettes were a more practical way to smoke. You don’t lose so much of your time when you smoke a cigarette. Smoking nargile demands an afternoon, with turkish coffee or tea, and an intellectual talk with good companions. Nargile is good to accompany calm, relaxed moments. You have time to think. You have time to talk with your friends. It’s all about entertainment and enjoying your time.

The nargile pipe consists of four pieces which are the Ağızlık (mouthpiece), Lüle (the top of the nargile), Marpuç (the tube), and Gövde (the body of the pipe). Gövde were generally manufactured in Beykoz. They were decorated with floral motifs and became unique examples of Turkish handcraft. Nowadays, it’s very diffucult to find a nargile pipe with the same high quality that was standard in the past. They are usually produced with poor quality materials, and there is less craftsmanship because all nargile pipes are usually mass-produced.

The tobacco is placed atop the tobacco-filled head, often separated by aluminum foil. The hose and mouthpiece through which the user inhales, is connected to the bowl that is half-filled with water. You should use mostly cold water and some ice. You can also add some flavored fruit powder into the glass. When the smoker inhales, the smoke passes through the waterpipe body, bubbles through the water in the bowl and is then carried to the smoker through the hose. Don’t puff strongly. Smoke gently. You should not suck too long or too frequently. Lay the hose on the table, don’t hand it to the next user. The other person will pick it up when he/she is ready.  Never light anyone else’s cigarettes on the nargile fire because this disturbs the rhythm of the burning charcoal.

Nargile has become popular again recently. You can find nargile cafes everywhere in Istanbul. The thing is only a few of them provide good quality nargile and offer the right kind of atmosphere in which you can chat comfortably with your friends. Tophane, Çemberlitaş and Kadıköy are popular spots for smoking nargile. If you have your own, you can also find many nice spots along the seaside in Anadolukavağı or the Golden Horn which are perfect for smoking nargile and comfortably enjoying your time.

Photo Credits: Jan Krömer

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