Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Mystical Mindset with an Underlying Social Mission

By Roger Levesque - Edmonton Journal - Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Thursday, November 15, 2007

Let Whirling Dervishes spin you into mystical mindset: what seems an obscure practice has an underlying message of peace and love

Whether you see it as performance art or religious ritual, the Whirling Dervishes of Rumi represent a rare, authentic example of ancient Islamic culture.

The 10-member troupe of dancers and musicians from Konya, Turkey who visited the Winspear Centre on Friday are actually tied to the mystical Sufi sect of Islam, founded after the teachings of the Arabic poet Jalaleddin Rumi (1207-1273).

Because UNESCO has declared this year, the 800th anniversary of his birth, the Year of Rumi, it's a particularly busy time for the touring ensemble.

Their concert starts with a set from the group's musicians and lead singer, featuring traditional instruments like the ney reed flute, the kanun or harp, and the bendir, a hand-drum. Then the dervishes come out to whirl with the musicians in what's known as the Sema ritual.

The dancers wear tall camel's-hair hats that represent the tombstone of the ego, and wide white robes that symbolize the shroud of the ego.

A common misconception is that the extended whirling is intended to put the dervish into some sort of trance state.

"During that moment of whirling, if you are alone and one to one with yourself, it is possible to enter such a state of deep inner reflection," says Dervish Mehmet Gomul. "But in a group performance like this, that is usually not the case."

The real point of the whirling or revolving dance is to symbolize a kind of harmony with the universe, an analogy for the motion of sub-atomic particles within our own bodies to the revolving motion of celestial bodies.

"The basic core of Sufism as taught by the poet Rumi is a way to peace and love, so the Sema ritual is a way to connect with God. That motion is to experience the intense love of God and to become part of the universe."

While dancing "like a whirling dervish" may seem an obscure practice, the underlying message of peace and love has made the works of Rumi the top bestseller among works of poetry in the United States in recent years.

Gomul explains that in Turkey, dervishes typically begin their training at the age of five or six, as do the master musicians. But there is no formal priesthood in the Sufi tradition. They are just seekers from various walks of life, some of them teachers "who want to further the message of universal love."

The current six dervishes from Konya, Turkey (the town where Rumi died) average around 30 years of age though the eldest member has been part of the practice for 45 years. The ensemble has put in some 250 performances on six continents over the past six years.

At a time when the Islamic religion is often seen as a source of violence by many in the western world and a frequent target of negative views, Gomul admits they also have an underlying social mission of sorts.

"The vast majority of Muslims feel mis-understood and this is part of the reason we hope to bring across this message of peace and love which is at the true heart of our beliefs. The word Islam actually means a way to peace."

Finally, the dervishes eschew applause from the audience at performances:
"The Sema ritual is a period of deep reflection, an inner journey, so applause can distort that. They can clap after we exit the stage if they wish."

Special thanks to translator Sahri Karakas for facilitating this interview.

1 comment:

edward said...

The word Islam actually means a way to peace."

This is very true, but unfortunately most of the world sees Islam through how the Shiites extremists and the terrorists portray it. Great educational piece !

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Mystical Mindset with an Underlying Social Mission
By Roger Levesque - Edmonton Journal - Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Thursday, November 15, 2007

Let Whirling Dervishes spin you into mystical mindset: what seems an obscure practice has an underlying message of peace and love

Whether you see it as performance art or religious ritual, the Whirling Dervishes of Rumi represent a rare, authentic example of ancient Islamic culture.

The 10-member troupe of dancers and musicians from Konya, Turkey who visited the Winspear Centre on Friday are actually tied to the mystical Sufi sect of Islam, founded after the teachings of the Arabic poet Jalaleddin Rumi (1207-1273).

Because UNESCO has declared this year, the 800th anniversary of his birth, the Year of Rumi, it's a particularly busy time for the touring ensemble.

Their concert starts with a set from the group's musicians and lead singer, featuring traditional instruments like the ney reed flute, the kanun or harp, and the bendir, a hand-drum. Then the dervishes come out to whirl with the musicians in what's known as the Sema ritual.

The dancers wear tall camel's-hair hats that represent the tombstone of the ego, and wide white robes that symbolize the shroud of the ego.

A common misconception is that the extended whirling is intended to put the dervish into some sort of trance state.

"During that moment of whirling, if you are alone and one to one with yourself, it is possible to enter such a state of deep inner reflection," says Dervish Mehmet Gomul. "But in a group performance like this, that is usually not the case."

The real point of the whirling or revolving dance is to symbolize a kind of harmony with the universe, an analogy for the motion of sub-atomic particles within our own bodies to the revolving motion of celestial bodies.

"The basic core of Sufism as taught by the poet Rumi is a way to peace and love, so the Sema ritual is a way to connect with God. That motion is to experience the intense love of God and to become part of the universe."

While dancing "like a whirling dervish" may seem an obscure practice, the underlying message of peace and love has made the works of Rumi the top bestseller among works of poetry in the United States in recent years.

Gomul explains that in Turkey, dervishes typically begin their training at the age of five or six, as do the master musicians. But there is no formal priesthood in the Sufi tradition. They are just seekers from various walks of life, some of them teachers "who want to further the message of universal love."

The current six dervishes from Konya, Turkey (the town where Rumi died) average around 30 years of age though the eldest member has been part of the practice for 45 years. The ensemble has put in some 250 performances on six continents over the past six years.

At a time when the Islamic religion is often seen as a source of violence by many in the western world and a frequent target of negative views, Gomul admits they also have an underlying social mission of sorts.

"The vast majority of Muslims feel mis-understood and this is part of the reason we hope to bring across this message of peace and love which is at the true heart of our beliefs. The word Islam actually means a way to peace."

Finally, the dervishes eschew applause from the audience at performances:
"The Sema ritual is a period of deep reflection, an inner journey, so applause can distort that. They can clap after we exit the stage if they wish."

Special thanks to translator Sahri Karakas for facilitating this interview.

1 comment:

edward said...

The word Islam actually means a way to peace."

This is very true, but unfortunately most of the world sees Islam through how the Shiites extremists and the terrorists portray it. Great educational piece !