An excellent early 20th Century cold painted bronze study of a Whirling Dervish with his arms outspread in deep trance-like state. The bronze with fine naturalistic colour and good detail, signed with the Bergman ‘B’ in an amphora vase and numbered.
Whirling dervish perform a dance called the sema. It is a religious dance performed to express emotion and achieve the wisdom and love of God. It originated in Turkey, in the Islamic sect of Sufism, which was founded by Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi. The Sufis support their knowledge from the Qur’an and the words of their master, Rumi. In order to become a dervish, young boys were required to attend schools called tekkes, where they would undergo an intense 1001-day retreat before they could perform the dance. The dervish considers himself an instrument of God so he cannot direct or retain the power that enters him. In 1925, the tekkes were closed and whirling ended until recently. Today semas are performed privately in homes or for the amusement of tourists.
II. Scope and Purpose of Whirling Dervishes:
The dance of the whirling dervish, also known as the sema, originated in the 13th century near Turkey. It is performed by semazens (whirlers) that belong to the Mevlevi sect of the Sufi. Sufism is the Islamic practice of attempting to achieve divine knowledge and love though a personal relationship with God. It is said that the classification of Sufi comes from the wool cloaks they wore since in Arabic suf means wool. Others think that the title comes from the Greek work sophos, which means wisdom (Friedlander 15). Muslim priests in order to free their souls and connect with Allah perform the sema. The dance is sometimes interpreted as everything spinning around the sun but most commonly is thought of as a re-enactment of death and resurrection.
III. Authority Structure
a. Sources and Criteria of Valid Knowledge
The sema began from the influence of Turkish culture and the inspiration of Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi. However, the practice of whirling dervishmay have originated in Central Asia long before Rumi where shamans used it to induce altered states of consciousness (Helminski). By performing the sema, Mevlevis try to experience the meaning of the words from the Qur’an: “To God belong the East and the West, and wherever you turn is the face of God. He is the All-Embracing, the All-Knowing” (Surah Baqara 2:115)
b. Methods of Inquiry
The scientific basis for the sema is the belief that “there is no being or object which does not revolve, because all beings are comprised of revolving electrons, protons, and neutrons in atoms. Everything revolves, and the human being lives by means of the revolution of these particles, by the revolution of the blood in his body, and by the revolution of the stages of his life, by his coming from the earth and returning to it” (Celebi).
The semas practiced today occur in the following manner: first, the dervishes bow to the Sheikh. The hats that they wear, called sikkes, represent their own tombstones and are pulled tightly onto their head so that they don’t fall off while the dervishes are spinning. Then there is the Sultan Veled Walk, where they trail the Sheikh around room while wearing black cloaks that symbolize their grave. Next, the dervishes let the cloaks fall off as they stretch out their arms to reveal their tennures (white robes). They begin to turn around their own axis while invoking the Name of Allah. As they spin, a reed pipe called a ney and drums are played in addition to chanting by the dervishes. It is believed that during the sema the power of Heaven enters into the dervish’s upturned right palm, passes through the body, and leaves through the downward facing left palm into the Earth. The whirling dervish considers himself an instrument of God so he cannot direct or retain the power that enters him.
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