The Role of Ancestor Cult in the Statehood Conception of the Turks

The Role of Ancestor Cult in the Statehood Conception of the Turks
Halic University, Turkey
(59th Annual Meeting of the PIAC, 2016)

The ancestor cult is one of the three constituents of ancient Turks’ national religion called Sky-God Religion or Tengrism by experts. This religion, mostly recognized as a monotheistic one and centered around Sky God, includes the belief on water-land spirits and ancestor cult covering the mighty and legendary rulers/warriors important for Turks’ history. The relationships of God-man-universe established based on strong universalism seems to find their reflection within the relationships of God-ruler-state, thus Turks’ conception of statehood and their vision on world sovereignty. This fact also led to “Sacred Kingship” concept encountered in most of the ancient nations’ history.

There are multiple records in Turks’ history on the veneration of ancestors by making sacrifices/prayers for them and commemorating them on specific days of the year in an aspect of both religious service and state ceremony. This tradition traceable back until the period of Chou Dynasty established by Turks in North China, is common to Huns, Turks, Uygurs and other Turkish tribes living in different areas of Turkestan. The ancestor cult survived even after the adoption of Turks’ other religions like Buddhism and Islam in different forms such as donations and daily prayers for ancestors (but mainly for deceased family members and religious leaders), visiting their tombs frequently and in religious festivals. On the statehood domain, the enthronization rites, where the important religious leaders and/or rulers were commemorated most, continued until Ottoman period.

This paper aims to trace the characteristics and the role of ancestor cult in Turks’ statehood history with specific examples.