Spinning a Universe
The Whirling Dervishes of Turkey tour for world understanding.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
There is no counting. The people whirling around the floor aren’t dancing. They move in a simple, continuous motion. The left foot, planted solidly on the ground, pivots while the right propels the spinning movement of the meditative body. As the dervishes turn counterclockwise to the sound of drums, reed pipes, and rhythmic chanting, the tempo quickens and the twirling pulse ignites. One palm is extended to heaven and the other to earth, finding the connection between the universe, their spirit, and Allah. Revolving like the spinning world, their bodies whirl and their skirts balloon. The worshipers glide around the stage, connecting heaven and earth, purifying their soul.
“It’s similar to when you see a little kid running or playing – whenever they feel happiness, they whirl,” says director Esin Celebi.“It is in our nature to feel the love of God, and after spiritual training this jewel is found from within.”
Celebi is the 22nd generation descendent of the 13th century Sufi mystic, Rumi. The dancing ceremony, called “Sema,” is a spiritual practice derived from Rumi’s teachings, expressing happiness and unity with God through movement. The Whirling Dervishes of Turkey – Galata Order are touring to raise awareness about Rumi’s teachings and the Sufi branch of Islam.
This year marks the 800th birth year of Persian thinker Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi.
“Rumi preached tolerance, love and understanding. This is not a religious event, it’s universal,” says Beril Unver, a member of the Monterey Institute of International Studies’ Friends of the Middle East, who arranged the event. These Whirling Dervishes began in Istanbul after Rumi’s death. Unver endorses this particular group of dancers because they are authentic.
“There are many groups in the US who follow this tradition: Rumi’s poetry is very popular,” she says. “But this group hails straight from Istanbul. They commit their lives to this ceremony.”
Celebi began whirling at age 9. Now 57, she no longer dances with an audience, but is a spiritual leader. She begins each Sema ceremony with a speech discussing her legendary 13th century grandfather and his poetic teachings.
“I try to transmit all systems of thought which Rumi brought up,” says Celebi. “I try to explain Sufi belief to different countries and cultures, as a kind of messenger.”
Rumi is the author of the Mesnevi, a book of that promotes unity in the world and provides spiritual guidance for its followers in a way consistent with the Koran.
“Anyone can be a dervish. The dance represents your love for God, a spinning into unity between you, the earth and the heavens, transcending all cultures or religious boundaries,” says Cenk Erdem, a member of the Galata Order.
At the beginning of the ceremony, the dervishes wear a black cloak, representing the material world. As the music progresses, they take off the cloak, leaving the material world behind. Gowned in white, which refers to the spirit, the spinning ritual begins. As their left foot cements them to the earth, it signifies their ego, and if they look down at this foot as they whirl, it means they are questioning their self-worth.
“Rumi tries to give a proposition: to leave your ego behind, to unite,” Celebi says. “He invites people to unify and to love. You should be confident with yourself, see the truth in yourself, love other people. Why fight? We are all projections from this earth.”
Whirling Dervishes of Turkey perform 8-10pm Saturday, Nov. 17, at the Golden State Theatre, 417 Alvarado St., Monterey. $25/general; $20/students, seniors, military. 714-749-7540 or goldenstatetheatre.com for tickets.