January 29, 2023

The Whirling Dervishes at GAU

By Margaret Sheard

I have always had a fascination for this dance and was delighted to receive an invitation to a concert at the Spectrum International Congress Hall at Girne American University on 17th December to see a performance of Sufi music and the Sema ceremony of the Whirling Dervishes.

The 17th December was the anniversary of the death of Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī, also known as Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī and more popularly in the English-speaking world simply as Rumi. He was a 13th century Persian Muslim poet, jurist, theologian and Sufi mystic born in Balkh, northern Afghanistan and he died in Konya, Turkey on 17th December 1273.

People who have a love of the Whirling Dervish dance will recognise the name Mevlana and as 17th December is an important date in the world of Mevlana, the whole week is celebrated as Mevlana Week which for this occasion was sponsored by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

The concert started with dialogue from three young people and although we didn’t understand the words, which were in Turkish, there was an enormous amount of feeling in all of their individual readings.

There then followed traditional music performed by 6 musicians which was very fascinating to listen to, again the words were in Turkish but there was such feeling in the singing and this made it very enjoyable. 

After the musicians, there was a short interval and I recognised a familiar face coming from the wings of the stage, this was Tanju Hastunç the Production Manager and Choreographer of Dance of Cyprus, which includes the performances of the Whirling Dervishes.

The musicians had donned the dress of the Mevlana and they entered the stage ready to play for the main event of the evening.   The Whirling Dervishes appeared and the dance began with the traditional ceremony.  I recognised some of the young men from a previous performance I attended at the Bedesten in Lefkoṣa.   I still find it amazing that there is no giddiness but of course that is the result of the meditation and discipline of these young men.  The dance went on for quite a long time and I find it a spellbinding and very inspirational experience.

All too soon the concert was at an end and there was a short speech in Turkish and English by Dr Sualp Davut, General Secretary, GAU. 

I have previously written about the Whirling Dervishes after seeing one of their performances at The Bedesten and if you would like to read more click here.

I managed to have a few words with Tanju during the interval and at the end of the performance and he told me that there are still performances in Lefkoṣa but no longer at the Bedesten, they are now held daily at the Dance of Cyprus studio which is 50 metres north of the Selimiye Mosque in Lefkoṣa.  There are daily 30-minute performances (except Sunday) at 12 noon, 2pm, 3pm, and 5pm.  If you require any further information please contact Tanju on 0533 863 5332.

Tanju also said he is hoping to take his dancers and the Whirling Dervishes to London in February, what a marvellous experience for them and also for the people who go to see their performance in the UK.

I spoke to Tanju about Ziya Azazi, a contemporary dancer who bases a lot of his performances on the Mevlana, and Tanju said that Ziya is a friend of his so I took the opportunity of asking him to try and persuade Ziya to come to North Cyprus again.    I am so impressed with the performances of Ziya Azazi and have also written an article about him, so if you would like to read more click here. 

For those lovers of the traditional dance we have recently been advised by Michael Brown of  a British Pathe Pictorial newsreel taken at the Dervish Centre in Nicosia in 1947 which is very interesting but unfortunately has no sound.  The link for this clip is www.britishpathe.com/video/turkish-dervish-dancing-cyprus/query/Cyprus.

We are including a slideshow of the many photographs taken at the GAU performance and also, as a first attempt by Chris, a video using photographs and soundtrack.  Unfortunately, the pictures and soundtrack do not exactly match but we feel it will portray the solemnity of the performance and should be more enjoyable than a simple slideshow.


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