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Somuncu Baba – The Master Baker and Wandering Dervish

Somuncu Baba – The Secret of Love is a beautiful cinematic depiction of the life of the 14th century Sufi master Hamid-i Veli, known as Somuncu Baba, the Master Baker, highlighting the spiritual value of sincerity, humility and service.

Rabia Spiker

From Ertugrul to Yunus Emre, Turkish historical drama series and cinema are gaining an international fanbase for their portrayal of Muslim history and its pivotal historical figures. In the tradition of these Turkish historical dramatisations, Somoncu Baba – The Secret of Love is a spiritually uplifting story about the life of the influential 14th century Sufi saint Hamid-i Veli, the Master Baker, known as Somuncu Baba.

Somuncu Baba in the Sufi lodge when he first arrives

Originally from Kayseri, Hamid arrives as an aspiring novice at the Sufi lodge of Sheikh Mahmud Mazdekani in Aksaray in Central Anatolia. There, the spiritual master asks him to work baking bread at the Sufi lodge, which is an emotionally charged task for him, reminding him of his late father who was also a baker. Using the symbolism of baking to describe what to expect during his time at the lodge, Sheikh Mazdekani tells him, “You know Hamid, wheat has all the secrets this world contains in itself. First you grind the wheat into flour. Then you use flour to bake bread. You’ll be ground away. You’ll go through the mill in this lodge. Just like a loaf of bread you bake for us.”

A new novice sitting with the Sheikh in the film Somuncu Baba

After spending time as a baker at the Sufi lodge in Aksaray, and marrying the Sheikh’s daughter as a test set by his spiritual master, he leaves to travel as a wandering dervish on a quest to understand the secret of divine love. He travels to Damascus and hopes to meet Rumi, but arrives when he is away and is greeted by his disciples instead, who tell him, “Our sheikh says ‘If you’re with me in spirit then you’re with me even when I am in Yemen. If you’re not with me in spirit, then you’re far away from me even when we’re side by side.’”

Somuncu Baba with his son Yusuf

On his journey of the soul Somoncu Baba also meets Beyazid Bestami in a dream, visits other spiritual guides, and undergoes a spiritual seclusion (khalwa). After some time he becomes a spiritual master in his own right. Describing his experiences as a wandering dervish to his disciples, he says, “I went up on mountains, I walked the deserts. I searched for myself in vastness. I wanted to hear a voice. I looked for a soul. Then I asked my inner self. And I realised… I was nobody. Have your heart in the right place. God’s blessings are endless.”

Wandering dervish on mountain

The film also depicts the close bond of the master-disciple relationship between Somuncu Baba and the novice who was to become the Sufi saint Haji Bayram Veli. Haji Bayram Veli, considered one of the most important Anatolian spiritual figures, was the teacher of Akshamsaddin, who became the mentor of Mehmed the Conqueror. The film thus situates Somuncu Baba within a lineage of Sufi masters with an enduring legacy reaching to the present day.

Bayram as a novice in the film Somuncu Baba

Numan (later Bayram) arrives from Ankara at Somuncu Baba’s lodge, wishing to become a disciple. Noticing the way he is dressed, Somuncu Baba tells a story. “Once upon a time there was a dervish who wore the same shirt come rain or shine. He didn’t have any other shirt. When someone asked him about that, he used to say that the most sumptuous table in heaven would be reserved for poor people who owned only one shirt. My friends, appearances don’t matter. What matters is your inner self.” Numan immediately takes off his ostentatious fur-lined outer garment, symbolically casting aside his ego with it. Somuncu Baba then takes him on as a disciple, baking bread with him, and gives him a new name: Bayram.

Somuncu Baba and Bayram at the bakery

Having spent time studying, Bayram tells Somuncu Baba “I kept looking. But I couldn’t find what I’ve been looking for.”
Somuncu Baba replies, “Then leave aside your books and pencils. You can’t really put love on paper… inscribe what you hear on your heart, not on paper.”
Nonplussed by this reply Bayram asks,
“Sir, all this education, this quest is in vain, you say?”
Somuncu Baba reassures him, “Of course not… Education is beyond any doubt the movement from darkness to light. Your knowledge will be the most useful aide in your quest.”

Making bread with the Sufi Master Baker

Highlighting the importance of sincerity, humility and service to others, the film tells the story of how Somuncu Baba and Bayram travel to Bursa, in north-western Anatolia, to work in anonymity as simple bakers, handing out bread to the poor and to construction workers building the new mosque. When the Ulu mosque is officially first opened for the Friday prayer by the ruler Yildirim Khan, his son asks that the Master Baker should give the first sermon and lead the prayer, as he recognises his high spiritual station.

At the mosque in Bursa

Both the ruler and the congregation are entranced by his words. However, not wishing for the celebrity status conferred upon him by this new role, Somuncu Baba decides he and Bayram must leave Bursa. “Our poor souls gain some strength when we share our bread. Our only concern is to reach the masses with the taste of bread we bake,” he explains. The son of Yildirim Khan, who is in awe of the Master Baker having witnessed a miracle he performed, replies “The people of Bursa will never forget you. The smell of your bread will stay in this bakery and the taste will linger on our palates.”

Dervishes eating bread in the mountains

Somuncu Baba – The Secret of Love is written and directed by Kürsat Kizbaz, who has also written and directed films on the lives of Yunus Emre and Rumi. With a Fairy tale like aesthetic, the film manages to convey a taste of the realm of the sacred, the spiritual journey of the sincere seeker, and the reality of the Sufi master-disciple relationship, which are difficult things to achieve on screen.

Somuncu Baba and Haji Bayram walking in the snow

Both the cinematography and the music have a limpidity to them that capture a sense of spiritual longing, with the beautiful atmospheric traditional music setting a meditative and reflective tone. Somuncu Baba – The Secret of Love is a spiritually refreshing film that you may want to watch more than once due to its mesmerisingly beautiful scenes, set in 14th century Sufi lodges and against the backdrop of sweeping vistas of the Anatolian countryside and Golden Age cities.

Somuncu Baba, the Master Baker and wandering dervish, walks towards the horizon

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