Many theories have been put forward on the subject of the origins of the TURKISH SHADOW THEATRE.
One of these supports that it appeared to the Moslems as a theatre of mystery that was symbolizing the world’s creation and it was used as the way of some Arab mystics to teach their dogma so that they could spread their religion. The Turks of Centric Asia brought this theatre in West Asia (13th c.) giving the name of Kogurtsak or Kavourtsak or Kobartsuk that means shadow theatre.
Another view, based on a theory of Dr. Richard Pischel, (scholar of the history of shadow theatre), refers that it is most probable that gypsies emerging from northwest India about more than a thousand years ago, traced a path across Asia and Europe.
It is quite likely they brought the Indian Shadow Theatre with them and stopping in Asia Minor, might well have popularized that art in Turkey.
There is an evidence asserting that Shadow Theatre was borrowed from Egypt in 16th century. Sultan Selim I, who incorporated Egypt into the Turkish realm in 1517, commanded the last Sultan of The Mamelukes to be hanged. This order was carried out and Sultan Tumanbay II was hanged.
In the palace of Roda lsland in the River Nile Sultan Selim watched a performance of a shadow play, representing the hanging of the last Sultan of the Mamelukes. He was so delighted in the performance that he rewarded the player and invited him to Istanbul. So, it appears that the Sultan, on his return, took with him a troupe of shadow players to Turkey.
Karagöz, is the title role in the Turkish shadow theatre, so the theatre itself is also called Karagöz. Many legendary accounts have been advanced regarding the origin of the Karagöz. According to the most popular rumour, Hacivat was a mason and Karagöz was a blacksmith. During the reign of the Sultan Orhan (1326 – 1359), they had worked in building a mosque in Proussa. They were killed by Sultan Orhan because they delayed the building of the mosque by their conversations and jokes.According to another rumour Hacivat managed to run away. Later, the Sultan filled with remorse. In order to console him, one of his retainers, named Sheikh Kusteri reflected Karagöz and Hacivat’s shadows on a white curtain. And that was the beginning of the Turkish Shadow Theatre.
Karagöz, is the representative of the public’s moral. He is realistic, honest and usually has to do things that he does not want to do because he is always penniless.
Some historians came to the conclusion that the origins of shadow theatre could be found in ancient Greece because of the fact that its technique had a character of mystery. The oldest and most important celebrations of this kind were the Eleusinian mysteries. (Ancient Greek mysteries celebrated annually in Eleusis in Attica in honour of Demeter and Persephone, gods of purification and fertility).
When Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C. – King of Macedon), was extending his conquests to Egypt brought the Greek civilization in India and simultaneously expanded the mysterious religion, the Greek gods and this type of theatre.