Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Istanbul 2014 - Sufi Whirling Dervishes

We attended  Sufi whirling show on 6th April 2014 at Hodjapasha Dance Theater seated few blocks from Yazaar Hotel in Fatih district, Sirkeci. It was very convenience for us as the hotel already get ready with our tickets for the show that night without us having to go there and purchased. We were back to the hotel as soon as we finished with the tour at Gulhane Park, suffice to offer Jama' prayer for Asar & Zuhur. After dinner, we straight away headed to HodjaPasha, a restored 550 years old Ottoman Hamam (turkish bath).

Hodja Pasha Hamam is a large double hamam, meaning it was originally built as hamam accommodating both men and women in separate section. It is known as Hodja Pasha because of the district name and Hodja is a nickname of Sinan Pasha. The building is belong to Fatih Sultan Mehmet II charitable institution inherited from Sinan Pasha hamam, with a prayer room converted as small mosque in present day. Hodja Sinan Pasha was the son of Hizir Beg who gave him a thorough education beside important instructors. Later in life he became the tutor and vizier to Fatih Sultan Mehmed. Under the baitulmal and wagf institutions following Islam's teaching, the hamam was built with neatly hewn stone and double row of bricks (see below photo).

This 550 years old Turkish bath comparatively a big bath with high dome, made of cut stone and also comer walls are designed are designed like a peacock tail. Portico area of the dome which was restored in 2008 (the place served as a Turkish bath till 1988) is kept alive as a culture center, which inspires the other parts of hamam which are used a market place to develop in the same way. 

The show that we watches that night was a dance for divine love (Allah) following Mevlevi (son of the great sufis teacher, Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi) Sema Ceremony. The Sema ceremony is known for its whirling dances and dervishes, featuring a complex musical repertoire called agin. It represents the mystical journey of man's spiritual ascent through mind and love to a perfection. It is one of the most important richness of Turkish culture as a tradition is proclaimed intangible heritage of humanity by UNESCO in 2005.

Panorama view of the stage showing musician seats, dancer's floor and 4 rows of seating arrangement in circular.
Mainly accepted to be the mystical dimension of Islam, Sufism is defined as means by which a person makes his personality free from bad habits, cleanses his soul and attains maturity with his love for God. Sufism is a lifestyle; it is a different attitude to life. As in those Amish community chose to stay in a simple and basic of life. Sufism resembles to the relationship between ice and water. Ice is made up of water but a solid state of water. The metaphor "the ocean and a jug of water" explains the relationship between Sufism and Orders (following the order of the Holly Book) very well. Even if you take water from the ocean and fill it into a jug, to what extent can the water in the jug preserve its oceanic nature? Those sentence as quoted by Hazret Inayat Han, Hazreti Mevlana.

The musician and dhikr group, "Mutrip" entered the hall
In the Islamic world, there are many orders known. The most famous, known by all around the world is the Mevlevi Order or the Mevleviyye in Ottoman Turkish. The Mevlevi Order was established by Sultan Veled, the son of Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi after his death in 1273 within the frameworks of his father's idea. Mevlana's son son is regarded as the real founder and the second father of the Mevlevi Order because he was the one who systematised and organised as an "Order" following his father's ideas. The Mevlevi Order is an institution founded totally on the base of love and tolerance.

After recitation of Koranic verses by the head of dhikr chanter, the dancers took off their black cloak

The Mevlevi Order continued its existence as the most institutionalized order during the time of the Ottoman Empire until 1923 when so called father of the modern Turkey, Kamal Ataturk closed up all orders and hermitages. Today, the Mevlevi Order Culture and the Mevlevi Sema ceremony, the most significant ritual of this culture, are regarded as a cultural heritage and taught for the purpose of transferring to the next generations by universities, foundations and associations and to continue their existence by means of various activities. The Mevleva Sema Ceremony is one of the most important richness of the Turkish culture as a tradition of 800 years. 

Now let's try to understand the Sema. In the universe, everything, from atoms to the solar system and to the blood which circulates in the body, revolves. Sema is a ritual, a spiritual journey which the soul makes to God as it becomes mature and attains unity. After this journey, it returns to its life and to serve humankind again.

In dervish lodges, flutist, drummers, chanters and choir comprise of a band called "Mutrip". Semahane is located in front of the Mutriphane. Directly accross from the entrance to the Semahane, there is the sheikh post. The line assumed to be between the post and the entrance is called "Hatt-i-Istiva". This is the shortest way to the unity going to the truth. The sheikh is the only person to tread on this line during the ritual. The sheikh represents Mevlena.Thepost is the the greatest spiritual level. With its red color, it represents birth and existence.   

Sema comprises of 7 parts, the 1st part, after mutrip, whirling dervishes and sheikh takes their places in the post, "Nati-I-Serif" is recited by the chanter. Composed by Itri, this work praises Prophet Muhammad. The 2nd part, following the chant, a drum voice is heard, symbolising the order "Be", whilst in 3rd part, "ney" improvisation starts. Nery represents the first breath which gives life to the universe.

In 4th part, upon the completion of the improvisation, "Devr-i Veled" starts with the accompaniment of "peshrev". The sheikh and the whirling dervishes revolve for 3 times in the semahane with the music. The first revolution tells the creation of the sun, the moon, starts and all non-living things by God. The second revolution tells the creation of the plants and the third revolution tells the creation of the animals. While passing the post during "Dev-i-Veled", the whirling dervishes plead with each other and and prostrate themselves before the hearts of each other.

5th part, taking his place in the post after Devr-i Veled, the sheikh meets the whirling dervishes, who remove their coats as the first salute of the rituals begins, and then the whirling dervishes start to revolve. This represents the birth of the humanity. The whirling dervishes wear a special costume symbolising the death of the ego. The sikke represents the tombstone, the coat represents the tomb and the tenure represents the shroud. The whirling dervishes arm are crossed their chest while they enter the circle. In this position, they look like a "one", attesting the Unity of Allah. As the whirling begins, they extend their arms with their right hand opened upward and the left hand turned downward meaning "from Allah we receive, to man we give; we keep nothing to ourselves". The whirling dervishes revolve both around their own axes and around the circle, just as planets revolve both around their own axes and also around the sun. 

1st salute, sema is a means for humans to reach Divine realty and an intoxication of the soul. The first cycle of Sema is to view the worlds. It is the way to reach the grandeur and majesty of Allah. During the first salute, lovers get rid of doubts and attest the unity of God. 2nd salute is to dissolve the entire existence in this Divine Unity, in 3rd salute lovers cleanse themselves and reach the level of "maturity" whilst the 4th salute the ultimate union of the "non-existence" in "existence" is reached. In this salute (4th), the sheikh also enters the Sema. Revolving at the heart of the whirling dervishes in Hatt-i-Istiva, the sheikh opens his coat with his right hand and clasps the 2 edges of his coat with his left hand, demonstrating that he opens his heart to all people. 

In 6th part, the sheikh returns to his post with the ney improvisation. The ritual continues with a reading of the Quran "The east and the west belong to God and wherever you turn, you are faced with Him. He is All-Embracing, All-Knowing" (Surah Al-Baqarah, verses 115).

The last part, in 7th the Sema ends with reciting surah Al-Fatiha for the souls of all prophets, our martyr and all believers and a prayer for the salvation of our home and country. The journey ends here, but as a matter of fact, it is only a part of the ritual journey which those who follow Mevlana's teaching, those who pursue love and those who seek the Divine themselves take in every minute of their lives. With the words of Mevlana "When you enter the Sema, you will leave both of the worlds, this world of the Sema is outside of both worlds". 

It was rather a very cold night and the coldness can be felt (or maybe contain) in those hall. I put on my winter jacket throughout the show. We were glad for the choice of show. 10 years ago, during autumn in Istanbul (colder than the 2nd visit), our group was watching the Belly dance. Some of you might want to read my first experience in that entry, Istanbul in 2004.  

Hope you enjoy the enlightenment of Sufi Whirling Dervishes as much as I do. Thank you for reading.

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