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The Whirling Dervishes held in London, Cambridge and Oxford

Organised and presented by Yunus Emre Institute London, The Whirling Dervishes: Mevlevi Sema Ceremony & Devran Dhikr by the Istanbul Sufi Ceremonies Ensemble was held in London, Cambridge and Oxford with an attendance of over 2000 spectators and an approximate amount of £24K was raised for the Türkiye Earthquake Relief Fund. 

The series of events launched on the 24th of April in London at the EartH Theatre, a stylish and glorious multi-arts space. The second stage of the tour took place on the 25th of April at West Road Concert Hall, one of Cambridge's premiere music venues and renowned for its superb acoustic qualities and on the 26th of April, this spiritually fulfilling experience came to an end with a final performance at Sheldonian Theatre, an architectural jewel at the heart of Oxford!  

The tickets were already sold-out days ago and the venues were filled with participants who came from all over the country and wanted to take part in this one-of-a-kind and authentic version of the Mevlevi Sema Ceremony that they would see for the first time in the UK. The events comprised two parts started with a warm welcome speech by the Head of Dervishes, Fatih Çıtlak about the Sema Ceremony in which he explained the fundamentals of the Sema Ceremony. This unique ceremony requires skill and concentration to perform and includes mystical symbols at every stage from the beginning to the end. Accordingly, Çıtlak talked about the symbolism and the meanings attached to the clothes, postures, movements, and parts based on each unique performance as the audience listened in full attention, answering to the literal meaning of Sema, that is to ‘’hear’’. 

Mevlevi Sema Ceremony, the first part of the performances, commenced with the recitation of the Noble Eulogy (naat-ı şerif), which praises the Prophet Mohammed and has been sung and plated since the late 17th century. Absolute silence prevailed in the theatre halls as the ney solo performance that came after, swept through the audience with its touching melodies which were felt by every member of the audience, the whirling dervishes gracefully raised their hands and the Sema began, with a timeless whirling from London to Oxford. The ceremonies were accompanied by an ensemble of a choir and excellent musicians fusing the traditional ney (reed flute), Turkish tanbur, Turkish kanun, Turkish oud, classical kemençe and rhythm. Traditional pieces from Ottoman Classical and Sufi music and hymns written by renowned composers were played and recited in some of the most famous theatre halls of the UK. 

The Devran Dhikr, which is a special type of dhikr that was performed during the second part of the event was literally a means to spiritual ascent and mesmerising as described by the attendees. In unison, the dhikr, that is the remembrance of God, performed by the whirling dervishes who formed a circle in the centre joined by the hymns played and recited by vocals created an emotional harmony that caused goosebumps and it was impossible not to notice the teary eyes among the audience who were touched by the moving music and hymns. The ceremonies were concluded with the reading of the Qur’an and prayers. The participants described their experience as more enhanced and greatly appreciated the information provided about each stage of the Sema Ceremony projected through the screen in the background and the special booklet that was prepared and presented by Yunus Emre Institute London as a gift for this event. It was an experience in which the audience was not merely spectators but participants in a spiritual practice with centuries of history. Uniting the mind, the heart and the body through the universal language of music and movement, the series of events was an unforgettable experience for the attendees that won’t get more spectacular than witnessing the centuries-old authentic Mevlevi Sema Ceremony and Devran Dhikr.

In addition to these, the splendid tour featured two lectures and concerts held on Mevlevi Culture and Sufi Music! The first lecture and concert took place on the 23rd of April at SOAS University of London: The Department of Music and the second lecture and concert took place on the 25th of April at the West Road Concert Hall, University of Cambridge! As part of these lectures, Owen Wright, Emeritus Professor of Musicology of the Middle East delivered a talk on the historical aspect of Ottoman Classical Music and the Musical tradition of the Mevlevi Ayin as well as the repertoire of the Mevlevi tradition. In order to complement Wright’s talk on the subject, the ensemble performed the third salam of Mevlevi Ayin composed in Hicaz Makamı.  

The Head of the Dervishes, Mehmed Fatih Çıtlak, who is an accomplished Islamic scholar, Sufi shaykh, and author delivered an inspiring talk on the Ottoman Sufi culture and the rich symbolic meanings, rules, and characteristics attached to this centuries-old tradition. He touched on the universal validity (relevance) and unifying meanings of the Sufi tradition in the Ottoman & Turkish contexts. Further in his talk, Çıtlak elaborated on the meşk method, the musical education system that was developed by Ottoman / Turkish musicians and has been performed in palaces, magnificent mansions, mosques and lodges throughout history in Turkish music. Çıtlak’s talk was accompanied by a joyful concert in the traditional Meşk style, which is a musical education system that was developed by Turkish musicians. This way, the classical methods of music training taught in the traditional dervish lodges throughout history were also partially displayed on stage.  

The ensemble led by the art director, Yüce Gümüş sang and performed a medley of traditional pieces by Ottoman Classical and Sufi music. Every member of the audience was noticeably joyous throughout the evening as they played pieces in Rast Makamı, which is one of the most played Turkish systems of melodic modes and is said to bring happiness and tranquillity to the hearer! At the end of the event, it was not surprising to have the ensemble returning to the stage to play pieces in Nihavend Makamı after the audience’s inviting applause that they could not reject!  

The Whirling Dervishes: Mevlevi Sema Ceremony & Devran Dhikr organised by Yunus Emre Insitute London and the Republic of Turkey Ministry of Culture and Tourism in collaboration with TİKA: Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency, Turkish Airlines, University of Cambridge: Faculty of Music, and supported by the EartH Theatre, Sheldonian Theatre, West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge Islamic Art, Cambridge Crescent, Islam Channel, Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, Oxford Turkish Society and SOAS University of London: Department of Music aims to introduce and represent the authentic Sema ceremony in its traditional and genuine form.


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