1/10 – Our friends are asking why we chose to travel to this cold and snowy spot, when we have been trying so hard to avoid winter weather. The answer is Rumi.
For those who do not live with Jim, and may be forgiven for not knowing, Rumi was an Islamic theologian, Sufi mystic, saint and poet who lived in the 1200s and was the inspiration for the Mevlevi, or Order of the Whirling Dervishes. He believed that music, poetry and dance were pathways to God. He embraced all religions. His poetry has been translated into many languages, and is still read, performed and enjoyed today all over the world. His words have graced a thousand posters. His tomb is here in Konya.
Every Saturday evening, the Konya Kultur Merkezi opens their doors to anyone who wants to experience the Sema, or ritual dance of the Mevlevi. There is no charge. We trudged through the snow and bitter cold to join a hundred others who came to share the experience.
We had witnessed an abbreviated Sema in Istanbul, with three dancers and three instrumentalists. Here there were a dozen instrumentalists and singers, and 25 dancers. The Mevlevi train for 1001 days. During the westernization of Turkey in the early 20th century, the Mevlevi were forbidden to practice. It’s only since the 1990s that they have been permitted to share the Sema in public again.
The Sema starts with a period of prayer and reflection, while music plays softly on flute, strings and drum.
The dancers start with their hands clasped tight on their shoulders, forming the numeral 1 for the One God.
After bowing and receiving a blessing, the dancers begin to spin, unfurling their arms slowly. Their left foot remains in contact with the earth, as they propel themselves around with their right. Their arms reach up toward the heavens. Their eyes remain open. They each whirl at their own rate, not in time with the music or with one another. No one falters. They range in age from smooth-skinned teenage boys to grey-bearded older men. They whirl for a long time, resting briefly between four passages of music.
At the end of the dance, passages from the Qur’an are read, a prayer is recited for all the departed, and the dancers silently file out of the auditorium.