The Dancing Dervishes
With so much of hardline news concerning Muslims being pumped out these days, the more lyrical, poetic and flowing form of Islam is virtually forgotten.
But it does exist and thrives in many forgotten and far flung corners of the Muslim world. Whether it is Turkey, Iran, Morocco or Egypt, besides of course India, Sufism continues to infuse Islam with melody and devotion.
While the musical Qawwali is something we are all very familiar with, the Persian mystic Rumi started a tradition which has adherents in areas like far western Asia and northern Africa. The custom is called Sema and it has seven parts which explain the mystic cycle to perfection. In this, dervishes swirl repeatedly in a meditative dance, so as to achieve seamless ecstasy.
They believe that everything in the Lord’s creation is revolving, whether it is electrons, protons, planets, satellites or even the blood circulating in our body. The whirling dervishes (Semazen) by voluntarily spinning try to participate in the movement of the universe as they make an ascent through the mind towards love and the Perfect (Kemal).
To a viewer, most of their dance would seem like unending swirls, but all their movements have deep meanings and give out profound messages about the nature of God and his creation. The circular progression shows that while turning towards his creator, the dervish deserts his ego, finds truth and achieves the Perfect. Once he arrives at the door of the highest element, he feels love for all creatures without discrimination on basis of religion, caste, creed or race.
I was fortunate enough to witness one such show in the Goreme province of Turkey. What made the entire experience more special was the fact that the show was organized in an underground natural cave.
While seats were made of natural formations and cement, the dim lights added to the atmosphere. Soon enough, all the dervishes arrived in a line and took their respective positions on stage.