Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A-whirlin' they will go.


K
nown more commonly as the Whirling Dervishes, the Mevlevi order is a mystic group of Sufi muslims who are followers of Mevlâna Jelaleddin Rumî, a great Persian poet and mystic. The Mevlevi order was founded in 1273 following Rumi's death. Turkey is home to the Mevlevi and Lei and I are hoping that we will be able to catch a live performance while we are in Istanbul.

What we have come to recognize as a music and dance performance is actually a form of worship known as the "sema". The sema symbolizes man's attainment of the various levels of mystical union with God and of absolute perfection through spiritual fervor and controlled ecstasy. The whirling is derived from Rumî's habit of occasionally whirling in ecstatic joy in the streets of Konya, Turkey which was his home for most of his life.

Even the dress that the dervish adorn for the sema has symbolic significance. The white coat over a long white skirt represents his burial garment; the black cloak his tomb and the conical brown or white felt hat (kûlah) represents his tombstone.


The sema has seven parts symbolizing the dervish's love of God, humankind and all creation:

Natt-i Serif. Praise for God the Creator, for the Prophet Muhammed, and for the prophets preceding him (Musa/Moses and Isa/Jesus, etc.)

Kudum. The beating of a small kettledrum symbolizes the command of God which created the universe: "Be!"

Ney. The soulful, breathy music of the ney, the open-ended reed flute of the Mevlevi, symbolizes the breathing of life into all creatures.

Greeting. The dervishes greet each other three times, a symbol of the soul being greeted by its secret soul.

Whirling. The dervishes drop their black cloaks to reveal white costumes fitted to the torso, but with long, flowing skirts. The dropping of the cloak symbolizes the casting off of falsehood and the revelation of truth. Each dervish places his arms on his chest to symbolize his belief in the Oneness of God, "the One." Bowing, he kisses the hand of the Sheikh Efendi (who represents Mevlâna Jelaleddin Rumî) and seeks permission to enter the sema.

As he enters, each dervish slowly unfurls his arms, his right hand reaching up to heaven to receive its blessings, the left hand down to communicate them to earth. He whirls counter-clockwise (anti-clockwise), right to left, with his heart at the axis of the turn.

The dervishes complete four whirling sessions of approximately 15 minutes each, resting briefly between sessions. I don't know they manage to do this for so long a period of time - I would be dizzy after just a few seconds of whirling! Sheikh Efendi joins in the final session, turning slowly.

Prayer. Prayers are recited from the Koran in praise of God.

Fatiha. Recitation of the Fatiha, or first chapter of the Koran, in memory of all prophets, martyrs and believers, followed by a prayer for the welfare of the nation and its leaders.

We'll only be in Instanbul for just a few nights and from what I can tell, the Mevlevi do not perform every night so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we'll be lucky enough to see the Mevlevi perform the sema. Oh....and Lei told me that she hypnotizes easily so it will be VERY interesting to see how she reacts to all the whirling!!