Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Dervishes

Connie has sent in this article about her experiences with the Whirling Dervishes. Also note that Mevlana is also known as Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, the poet and Sufi Mystic.

By Connie Johnston, contributing writer - As a young child (just a few years ago), I remember my first memory of the "Whirling Dervishes." It was my grandmother who told me of men who spun around lifting themselves to heaven. Such a vivid picture I had of them. Scraggly men with long matted hair and beards, spinning like tops and never passing out. As children, we have all practiced this fine art called passing out or fainting and never realizing that we were imitating the ancient religion of Mevlana. Shades of our ancestors?

Since our arrival in Turkey, my husband and I had looked forward to seeing this ritual. In 1927 when Attaturk came into power, these practices of the Dervishes were banned and are now only presented and allowed, an open display of mysticism in December on the anniversary of Mevlana’s death.

Mevlana was a Sufi mystic, totally dedicated to the love of God and the transcendence of the soul. He embraced all men, of all religions, and taught the immortality of the spirit. His teachings dating from the 1200 hundreds are those of the "New Age Thinkers.”

Our tour was an hour behind schedule and the performance had already started. We arrived at the Sports Stadium where we all dashed in and tried to find our seats. We were finally seated just as intermission was announced. The dancers would start immediately following intermission.

After intermission, a distinguished gentleman addressed the group. He is a direct descendant of Mevlana. Of course, it was all in Turkish. Following his speech, which I am sure was most interesting, the musicians and chanters entered and took their places on a small stage, which was covered in animal pelts of various colors. Among the group were two blind gentlemen who were led in, one being the main chanter of the Koran. A gentleman, who could barely move due to advanced age, was also in this group. All were dressed in black robes with white dresses beneath and the dervish cylindrical headdress, one made of beige felt and at least twenty inches tall. 

The musicians took seats on chairs while the drummers sat on the floor. Reed flutes, a unique type of violin and drums made up the orchestra. With the supporting group seated, the dancers entered. They, too, had the black robe and headdress of the dervishes. Below the robe, you could see the hems of their full white dresses. The headdress represents their tombstone; the black robes are their shrouds. Leading the procession is the Shey, the representative of Mevlana earth. He is seated on a pelt of red fur, the color designating the manifest or the visible. It is the symbol of mystical union and of God manifest, as it set on the threshold to the spiritual world.

The purpose of the ritual is to induce controlled ecstasy in the individual through which he may divest himself of his physical self and attain the ultimate truth. Each dervish moves forward and kisses the hand of the Shey, asking permission to perform the ritual of the dance. Their hands are crossed over their chest resting on their shoulders. As permission is granted, they slowly begin to whirl, opening their arms with the right hand outstretched and turned upwards, palm opened, the left hand is turned downwards. This is to symbolize the Mevlevi principle: "what we take from God then give to man. The dancers then 'whirl around the room, at the same time pivoting on their own if spinning around the sun, like the earth, the planets and the stars.

The graceful motions of the unfolding of the arms and the full flowing white robes are inspiring. Men come from all over Turkey to participate in this homage. Among them are doctors, lawyers and men whose faces, with their eyes closed, are truly seeking God and the return of their soul to their creator. It was expressed in every face of the dancers and in the faces of people in the audience who appreciated the performance for the abandonment to God and the love expressed in the movement.

It was an experience we would always carry in our hearts, an expression of divine love. We returned the following year to, once again, to behold this divine ceremony


Linda said...

Oh this is fabulous Connie! I've always wanted to know more about this and just never googled it, and it's so much more interesting to experience it vicariously through personal story. I see what you mean Laron and Iris!

Connie, I'm curious to know if you remember which way they spin - is it anticlockwise? I also found it interesting about the hands - left down, right up...what I spoke out was ...'left up right down - from spirit to matter', right up left down - from matter to spirit....which would make sense if they're intention is to journey back (my musings). Everything is about spin and movement:). I used to spin right up until a few years ago - when a friend commented "ah, a Sufi". I didn't know what they were, but when it was explained I stopped doing it (?). Great story, I look forward to many more, and from everyone! Thank you :)

Connie said...

You are so kind Linda.

They do spin counter-clockwise. With their eyes closed, they always remained in their own space.

Linda said...

Thanks Connie, just truthful. Ah, that's interesting.