Friday, July 30, 2010

Whirling Hermits

A Turkish tradition that I admittedly knew very little about was the whirling dervishes. The literal translation of “dervish” in “hermit”, which I found amusing, but apparently something is lost in the literal translation where hermit doesn’t really mean the same thing. On our final night in Cappadocia, we had the opportunity to attend a whirling dervish traditional performance with Sujata and Indu, a mother/daughter traveling duo me met at our cave hotel.

While I don’t necessarily seek the fine arts I do appreciate most types when the opportunity arises and respect the artist’s ability (except the ballet; I just don’t get the ballet). Having no idea what to expect with a whirling dervish performance, in my head I had imagined that since they were whirling that it would be some sort of celebratory high-energy dance, similar to some sort of Russian folk dance. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It’s a way for the dervishes to get closer to god by putting themselves in a near trancelike state while spinning in circles.

The entire performance was forty five minutes. The first ten minutes was the entrance, a lone dervish chanting in Arabic, followed by six dervishes creating a ritualistic circle. After that, five of the six dervishes removed their black cloaks to reveal long white flowing garments. At that point, they started to whirl. And whirl. And whirl.

They honestly spun around in circles on a twenty five foot square stage with very few breaks for the next 30 minutes. It was a little like watching a tea cup ride at an amusement park where, yep, you guessed it, each dervish was a tea cup (though, in the spirit of full disclosure, the stage did not tilt). I sat there most of the time in awe of the fact that, (1) they could whirl in circles for so long without breaking the spin and/or falling and (2) they could move around a floor while whirling and not smash into one another.

When in Turkey, the whirling dervish experience is probably a necessary one, though when you sit there wondering when one is going to take a tumble, hit a wall, or hit another dervish, it’s probably a safe assumption that I didn’t enter their same trancelike state. Though if you go, I'd recommend a place that allows photography (our's did not). Though we got a great postcard of what it looks like (and to be honest, is probably better than any photograph I could have taken).

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