Saturday, May 10, 2008

Dizzying dervishes.


O
ur evening entertainment for tonight was to watch a performance of the sema by the Whirling Dervishes. We had reserved seats for the performance held at Istanbul's Sirkeci ("Sir-kay-sea") train station. We were instructed to show up about 1/2 hour before the start of the performance which we dutifully did. We were then directed to one of the rooms located off the main platform. A room at a train station - most certainly an unusual location to see a dance performance. Luckily for us, we arrived early enough to score front row seats.

The performance began with a concert. There were 4 musicians playing typical Turkish instruments including the oud which is a member of the lute family and cousin to the saz. With its deep tone, it produces a very sombre and haunting sound. There was also the ney which is a woodwind that is similar to a recorder.

 There were six dervish performers. Since this is an artistic performance versus an actual religious performance, women were part of the troupe. As the dervishes entered the room, they were wearing the black cloaks that signify the burial tomb and the conical hats that represent the tombstone.
 
 The dance performance began with the dervishes walking, very slowly in single file with their arms crossed over their shoulders. Then, at a certain point in the line, the first pair would turn to each other and lightly bow. They repeated this for several iterations. 
 Then they removed their black cloaks to reveal their coats and long skirts. The men were clothed in the traditional white color and the women in different colored outfits. They began to whirl and as they did, they cocked their head to the right and unfurled their arms - with their right palm facing upward to receive blessings from God and their left palm facing downward to spread the blessings to mankind. 
 
They would whirl for a few minutes and then line up in a row and bow to the audience....and then repeat the whirling. This went on at least 4 to 5 times. As they whirled past us, we noticed that all the performers were in an eery, trance-like state - with expressionless faces and eyes that seemingly did not blink. They also seemed very light footed - just gently rotating on their left foot. Ech dervish also whirled at a very consistent pace of their own - some whirled faster than others. I don't know how they managed to maintain the rhythym. I would have been on the floor after a few rounds.

Less than an hour later and the performance was over. Strangely enough, I was very relaxed at the end of it all.I don't know if it was because of the monotonous drone of the music or the whirling but I think that had the performance gone on any longer, I would either fallen asleep or been hypnotized! When we got up to leave, I was ready for bed but we still had to eat dinner so off we went in search of a restaurant!