Muhteşem Yüzyıl – “Magnificent Century”

I am currently watching Episode 34 of Season 1 of Muhteşem Yüzyıl or the Magnificent Century on NetFlix – a Turkish TV Serial about the Ottoman Empire, specifically, Sultan Suleyman Khan or Suleyman the Magnificent.

It is an interesting and intriguing story about the exploits of the Sultan Suleyman, who was the most successful Ottoman Sultan ever. Apart from his conquests and council meetings, the coverage is largely centred around “palace intrigue” = what happens in his palace amongst members of his harem and members of his immediate family. Rather absorbing and sometimes thrilling. The story resembles Hindu Mythological Epics in several ways, but the storylines are very different. I realized that every major dynasty or empire would have some great guys like Sultan Suleyman, whose story of empire-building becomes the basis of future TV Serials!

The more of the serial I see, the more I am impressed by the wide variety of skills displayed by the Sultan – he is a skilled jewel maker, for instance and makes very special jewels for his wives and sister. He is a complete package of an individual – an accomplished warrior, a military strategist par excellence, a nation builder, an architect of palaces and mosques, an encouraging patron of the arts and literature as well as music. There are very few kings who were like him – he was also a Sultan who was particular about rendering justice and was always inclined to measure the responses and feedback from his subjects during anonymous trips to the city bazaar. He also encouraged talent when he found it even in non-Turkish people, like in his Grand Vizier, Ibrahim Pasha, who was just his Concierge before earning the complete trust of the Sultan and replaced established Pashas who were vying for the Grand Vizier post of the Ottoman Empire.

It is truly amazing to see the rivalries amongst contenders for Sultan’s attention. The whole Topkapi Sarayi (the Sultan’s primary palace) seems to be filled with such rivalries and treachery, with the maids-of-honour playing some key roles. One can also witness the corrosive influence of communication-peddling of the wrong type, inflaming people to take some vicious action. Surely, none of these happenings are unnatural at all – in fact, one should expect such things in any dynasty of yesteryears.

Of course, people learn from such treachery and today’s politicking has come about from such palace intrigue. We all know political dynasties continue, though being challenged in many countries. However, dynasties have a longish rule and a habit of returning to power, as we often see in the Indian political scene.

I am fascinated by the Ottoman dynasty – I do not recall having studied about it in my secondary school History textbooks. I never bothered to learn about it till I chanced upon this TV Serial, and then I wondered how come I missed such a fabulous storyline. Here is the story of a valiant Sultan who challenged most of Southern Europe, the Mediterranean Sea, Egypt and Persia. This serial has provoked me to read up more stuff on the Ottoman dynasty and its historical significance and influence, and I am truly amazed about it. Especially about Sultan Selim Khan (Suleyman’s father) and Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent.

There are four Seasons to be seen, so there will be a big number of Episodes, like the Mahabaratha or Ramayana. I believe one can learn a lot about Political Science and Human Behaviour from such stories. Not much has changed ever since, and new chapters in these two disciplines continue to dazzle today’s world. We will witness more of such real-time, online Episodes in the coming months, and I won’t be surprised if CBS or NBC come up with “Donald Trump – the Outlier as President” Serial in the next couple of years. And, we will all be seeing that Serial for sure.


Vijay Srinivasan

25th December 2016