WHIRLING DERVISHES at BEDESTAN, LEFKOSA

 “You will get rid of your fears as you whirl” 

Whilst in Lefkoşa in April this year with some time to spare, wandering around the old walled city I discovered there were performances of the Whirling Dervishes being held at the restored Bedestan next to the Selimiye Mosque so took the opportunity of finding out more and attending one of the performances. 

I spoke to Tanju Hastunç who is the musical choreographer for Dance of Cyprus and he told me that they are trying to promote the Whirling Dervish performances at the Bedestan.  At that time there were 3 half-hour performances between 11am and 14.30pm every Tuesday and Wednesday from March to November and this can be increased if there is sufficient demand.   The Whirling Dervishes also perform at Mevlevi Tekke and Museum which is along the main road on the left hand side after passing through the Kyrenia Gate.  If anyone wants more information about the Bedestan performances contact can be made on 0542 881 0303 or 0533 870 3339.

 The Bedestan, which has recently been refurbished, is indeed a most beautiful setting for this type of performance and when we went into the building you could see the massive amount of work which has been carried out, 

 There was a short introduction by Edip Gűvan who is a member of the Dance of Cyprus followed by a slide show about the Whirling Dervishes and their origins which date back to the 1200’s and Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi who was born in the province of Balkh, Afghanistan in 1207, he left with his entire family in 1228 and eventually settled in Konya in Anatolia where he developed a profound tolerance for religion.  He was considered to be a philosopher, poet and scientist.  He died on 17th December 1273 and was laid to rest beside his father in Konya, which is in present day Turkey. 

Then the Whirling Dervishes appeared on the stage accompanied by Edip Gűvan who told me later that he represented the leader or controller of the dancers to ensure they moved in the correct way.  Initially they sat and meditated for a while and then started on the routine which eventually led to the whirling performance.  There were three Whirling Dervishes and these were Semih Nazlim, Bıbı Galiş and Burak Akbulut.  The whirling starts with the arms crossed over the chest, then the arms are raised, the right hand directed to the skies ready to receive God’s beneficence, looking to the left hand turned toward the earth, they turn from right to left around the heart.

 On the stage there were 4 white mats which were for the Dervishes and the Leader and a red mat shaped like an arrow which signified the sultan (or sheik) and was laid if he was not present.  There was an imaginary line across the stage, depicting heaven on one side and earth on the other and it was important that the dancers moved from heaven to earth and back to heaven and in this way they progressed around the stage. 

We were told that they can whirl for 21 minutes but then the blood pressure in their arms starts to go down.  Later, when talking to the three young men who had performed they said they could continue whirling for an hour or more.   They are in a very deep act of meditation while whirling and it is amazing that there is no giddiness but this is the result of their meditation.   We were also later told that the young men are very spiritually guided.   I asked Edip at what age they start following this spiritual path and he said it is normally at about 10 years old but this can vary.

I suspect that many of the audience were tourists and I did advise Tanju to aim some advertising at the expatriate community who I am sure would love to see this type of performance but are not made aware of what is available.   We for sure were not aware of it and only came on it by chance because we were in the area on other business, but I am so glad we did.

 It was a lovely performance in an ideal setting and I do hope that there is sufficient support to enable this wonderful tradition to continue at the Bedestan.  

By Margaret Sheard