“ Traditional dance ceremony from Istanbul. „
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The event I am reviewing takes place in Istanbul Turkey
Sufi Music concert and Sema Ceremony - Sirkeci Train station - Event Hall Istanbul
Tuesday and Saturday 7.30 - 8.30 pm
SETTING THE SCENE:
When I was a child my mother would always say we were rushing around like 'whirling dervishes' and I had always thought they were mini Twisters or cyclones. As I grew up I had decided in my brain that 'whirling dervishes' were armed swordsmen who fought by whirling their weapons but i'd not really thought much more deeply about who or what they were until we saw an advert for 'Whirling Dervishes' near our hotel in Istanbul. They were advertising a 'Sufi Music concert and Sema Ceremony or Whirling Dervish ceremony. I was intrigued as I had heard of these dervishes but really didn't know much more so we booked at the cost of 36 Turkish Lira each for Tuesday evening at 7.30pm at the Sirkeci Railway Station which was just round the corner from our hotel This is the station that was once the terminus for the famous Orient Express train that our hotel was named after.
We sat in a semi circle around the central 'stage' (not really a stage, just empty space where the performance would take place. The room was called an event room but looked like it might have been a waiting room. There was not much in there apart from about 30 wooden chairs for the audience and a row of about 6 chairs where the musicians were going to sit.
THE SUFI CONCERT AND THE MEVLEVI WAY:
After a few minutes a group of musician entered and sat on the chairs. They were Sufi musicians playing pieces of Turkish music which carry a message of the "Exalted Mevlana Rumi". This Mevlevi Brotherhood is a sort of religious following founded completely on love and tolerance. The "Exalted Mevlana Rumi" is considered a saint of love who gave his heart to the Creator and because of this has no 'self' left.
I quote from the explanation leaflet we were given;
"Mevlana is a superior and saintly master. He is a system in himself, a life and an order. He is the monument to spirituality who, through his sublimity, displayed his moral values, his knowledge, love, intelligence, perception of God, behaviour, everything. "
The followers embrace all people regardless of race, creed or colour as they promote love, peace tolerance and brotherhood. I just think it is a real shame that this religion and philosophy is not spreading throughout the world as we could certainly do with more of these sentiments.
The music I have to be honest was a little dull, no catchy tunes to hum along to and in fact i found it all a bit discordant and found myself looking around the room whilst the concert was in progress and admiring the small child in front who sat extremely politely throughout while In was struggling to maintain my attention. I am being honest here and showing my lack of emotional and philosophical concentration and maturity but I am sure there were others in the audience who shared my feelings.
Thankfully this part was over and the dervishes were entering. The musicians stayed and did play but the music was a bit irrelevant for me as I was mesmerised by the performance of these 6 people on the floor.
THE SEMA CEREMONY:
I will try to explain a few of the main pieces of information we were given about the ceremony;
The musicians and choir are as a group known as the MUTRIP which sit in the front part of the chamber.
On the floor across from the entrance to the chamber was a sheepskin which is called THE POST OF THE SHEIK or spiritual master.
The line between the sheepskin and the entrance is called THE EQUITORIAL LINE and represents the shortest path, the unity and this is never stepped on by anyone except the SHEIK.
The musicians (Mutrip) entered followed by the dervishes each wearing a black cloak and a dull coloured tall woollen hat. The chanter began to chant the NAAT-I SERIF which praises the prophet Mohammed. The drum then played (this represents the Divine Command, followed by the flute (representing the soul given to the Universe). After this the Sheik and the semazens (dervishes) circled the chamber three times. Their first circle tells of God's creation of the sun, moon, stars and all inanimate things. The second circle, the plant world and the third circle represents the animal world. While they were circling the dervishes bowed to each other in front of the sheepskin which was to acknowledge the centre of Divine Truth within each of their hearts.
The semazens removed their black cloaks after this and then bowed to the Sheik and then they began turning. This represented the birth of humanity. They turned regularly and quite quickly though I wouldn't say they were spinning like tops it was a peaceful sort of turn but they did it for ages - at least 5 minutes which is a very long time to keep turning in the same direction with your arms above your head and it seemed to me that their eyes were closed too.
As the semazens enter the circle they crossed their arms across their chests. In this position they are symbolising a unity with God. Once again I quote from the brochure;
"From God we receive, to man we give; we keep nothing for ourselves."
The samazens by turning are being the universe they spin as the planets spin in the universe. The samazen spin and revolve round the chamber then they stop revolving and just spin for another long period.
The turning or whirling is the way they reach a kind of meditative state. They whirled and returned bowing to the Sheik three times and then returned following the sheik to the chamber and whirled again. They did this four times each time between 5 and 10 minutes and they did not appear at all dizzy as they were able to bow and walk backwards quite calmly. The first time they spun the semazens were viewing all the worlds, the second cycle their existence becomes dissolved within the Divine unity and then the third cycle is where they cleanse themselves and finally in the fourth cycle they reach a stage of non-existence within the Divine Existence -
I suppose this means they lose their identity and become a part of the divine being.
The ceremony ended with a reading from the Koran. I was absolutely fascinated and it was mesmerising in a very spiritual way. I can't say I felt called to join them but the whole ceremony was so calm and flowed in a natural way so that you felt calm watching. Although the room was not that interesting you almost forgot the lack of atmosphere as you were drawn in to the spinning semazen. It would have been really amazing to see the ceremony somewhere outside in the dusk or in a beautiful Turkish highly decorated room - like the Topkapi Palace or the Hagia Sophia but despite the lack of atmospheric surroundings I was transfixed to these whirling dervishes.
In the ceremony we watched there were two white gowned semazen, one light green, one orange and one darker green but I'm not sure if that is always the case. They wear special costumes which are said to represent the death of the ego. The hat is a sort of tall plain woollen felt one in a dull brownie, green colour and that is called THE SIKKE - it represents the gravestone of the ego. The HIRKA is the black cloak and this is said to represent the tomb. The dress-like gown with circular skirt is called the TENNURE and this is said to be the shroud of the ego. So by wearing this outfit they are declaring that their egos are dead so they can then become one with God completely filled with love and brotherhood and tolerance.
WHERE CAN YOU SEE THIS?
This amazing performance is also performed at the Silivrikapi Mevlana Cultural Centre on the 2nd,3rd and 4th Thursday evenings in every month. The Galata Mevlevi Temple on the 2nd and last Sunday in each month and then where we attended at the Sirkeci train Station, event room on every Tuesday and Saturday so if you are in Istanbul for a few days you should be able to see these amazing whirling dervishes at one of these venues if you would like to experience this very different religious and cultural ceremony.
Hope you enjoyed reading this and learned something from my experience. This may be published on other sites under my name.