November 23, 2014

Whirling with the Dervishes.Cappadocia

In a restored Silk Road Caravanserai near Urgup, the Sufi religious ceremony of the Whirling Dervishes is performed weekly. It is a separate order within the Sunni faith of Islam and although once practised throughout the middle east, it is now limited to small groups in Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Indonesia.

The Caravanserai, finished in 1249, would be a reason enough to visit Sarihan. They were built every 25 km along the Silk Road from China to Constantinople, to provide food, supplies, sleeping quarters, and a local market for trading. The Sarihan Caravanserai has been beautifully restored. You can see where the camel trains rested in the large courtyards, while their riders ate, traded, and slept inside.

The ceremony, called Sema, symbolises in seven parts a journey whereby the Dervish leaves his ego and desires behind and reaches a state of perfection, or religious ecstasy. It is a meditative state requiring constant circular movement. The participants have their arms open while whirling continually, their right hand directed to the sky and God, and the left hand towards earth. They turn from right to left. pivoting around the heart, conveying spiritual gifts to the audience.

A Sheikh, a senior dancer, is dressed in black and walks amongst the dancers. He starts and ends the ceremony. At the beginning the Dervishes pass by him three times, each time exchanging greetings, until they begin the circling. He gently taps on the skirt of the dancer if they are getting too close to another, thus keeping order and avoiding collisions.
It is a fascinating performance. Hypnotic to both the dancers and me watching directly in front of them. The traditional music adds greatly to the performance, producing a steady beat, alongside vocal chanting, before reaching a crescendo towards the end of the ceremony. The old dark Caravanserai with its cold walls and hard seats added to the atmosphere, it would not be the same in a modern ballroom. I was so entranced that time passed too quickly and the Dervishes collected their black cloaks, bowed and slowly shuffled out of the building.

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