Tucked away in his Karagöz Antiques souvenir shop in Bursa’s Eski Aynalı Çarşı, Mr. Şinasi Çelikkol labors away at his two loves: purveying Turkish antiques and promoting traditional Ottoman shadow puppetry.
Şinasi Bey’s antique shop is an overstuffed little room in what was once the Orhan Gazi Hamam (Turkish bath). Copper pots and lamps hang from the ceiling, wooden trinkets inlaid with mother of pearl line the shelves, and antique fabrics sit in piles from floor to ceiling. The shop, opened in the 1960s by Şinasi’s father, Rafet, holds a treasure trove of original and replica Turkish antiques and handicrafts in a rustic atmosphere. It’s a highly recommended stop on your Bursa shopping tour.
Perhaps the most important treasures in Şinasi Bey’s shop you wouldn’t even notice unless you were looking for them. Hanging above his desk is a backlit white screen framed with photographs. A small red curtain hanging from the screen instantly transforms his desk into a shadow puppet theater. Below the desk are stacks of hand-made ox skin shadow puppets of various shapes and sizes and characters. Of course, the most prominent characters in Şinasi’s shadow puppet collection are the famous Karagöz and Hacivat.
According to local folklore, the Karagöz and Hacivat puppet characters are based on real 14th-Century people. As the legend goes, these two eccentrics were workers on the construction of Bursa’s Ulu Cami’i (Grand Mosque), but their tendency to clown around on the job site and distract their coworkers repeatedly got them into trouble and they were ultimately executed for their misguided antics. Much loved and sorely missed by the people, Karagöz and Hacivat were memorialized as amusing puppet characters and have entertained people for centuries.
In the satirical shadow puppet plays, Karagöz is the bawdy, unrefined, impulsive commoner while Hacivat is the educated, well-mannered, smooth-talking aristocrat. Each character tries to persuade and influence the other in their quest to solve every day problems: Karagöz relying on his simple, earthy street wisdom and Havicat asserting his reasoned, sophisticated ideals. Together, they frequently find themselves entangled in strange and comical situations along with their eclectic cast of neighborhood friends and antagonists: Çelebi, the charmer; Tiryaki, the opium smoker; Beberuhi, the dwarf; Bekir, the drunk; Denyo, the half-wit; Civan, the tightwad; and Mercan, the spice trader. There’s also the Greek doctor, the Jewish scrap dealer, the Laz boatman, the Iranian poet, a handful of licentious women, and a host of other diverse and shady personalities.
Today, Karagöz shadow plays are a treat to watch. Locals of all ages—from schoolchildren to senior citizens—enjoy the humorous and zany exploits of Karagöz, Hacivat, and friends. And in Bursa, the rich shadow puppet tradition lives on thanks in large part to Şinasi Çelikkol.
In the mid-1980s, Şinasi Bey began to take great interest in Karagöz shadow puppetry and studied under the tutelage of Bursa’s master puppeteers: Metin Özlem, Orhan Kurt, Taceddin Diker, and Hayali Torun Çelebi. In 1988, Şinasi started offering Karagöz shadow puppet plays in the corridor outside his shop. Tourists from the world over enjoyed Şinasi’s 45-minute shows in his portable makeshift theater. These plays peaked in 1996 with 36 shows presented to nearly 1000 guests.
As the years went by, Şinasi became recognized as a local and national champion of Karagöz preservation and promotion. In addition to earning many national and international cultural awards, Şinasi was instrumental in the opening of Bursa’s Karagöz Museum, in establishing the Bursa branch of the International Puppet and Shadow Theater Union (UNIMA), and in organizing the acclaimed biennial Bursa International Shadow Puppet Theater Festival. In his spare time, Şinasi also owns and operates the Misi Ethnography Museum in the village of Misi (Gümüştepe), which houses a nice collection of Karagöz puppets and a small shadow puppet theater.
When you’re in Bursa, be sure to stop into Şinasi Bey’s Karagöz Antiques in the Eski Aynalı Çarşı. Browse his antiques collection and pick up a souvenir or two. And, perhaps more importantly, ask him to perform for you a short Karagöz shadow puppet play. Şinasi would be delighted to show you his life’s work, preserving one of Bursa’s remarkable historical and cultural treasures.