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A Revival: Transformation of Mevlevism in Turkey

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A Revival: Transformation of Mevlevism in Turkey

Hande DEVRİM KÜÇÜKEBE Ege University State Conservatory of Turkish Music

Final Essay for IPEDAK- Erasmus Project- Intensive Programme 2010

Revival can be defined as a social movement aiming to restore and protect a tradition which is believed to be disappeared or partly neglegted. This essay will focus on how revival is discussed as a concept in the works written by Egil Bakka, Andriy Nahachewsky, Mohd Anis Md Nor and Ayhan Erol and the case of The whirling Dervishes in Turkey will be elaborated using this concept of revival. In his article ‘Whose dances? Whose authenticity?’ Egil Bakka, mentions folk dance revival in Norway as an ‘organized folk dance movement as opposed to popular tradition’.
He presents two dance categories. The first one contains ‘dances staying alive because of their own strength and popularity’ and the second category consists of ‘dances being consciously cultivated, taught and sustained by a desire to preserve, nurture or utilize’ (60) In the first category there are the dances common in Norwegian rural areas and he states that there aren’t any systematic teaching and efforts to keep these dances alive. The dances in the second category are the ones which are subjected to the revival or ‘organised folk dance movement’ Bakka states that the revival process requires to move the dances into new contexts and these are defined by him as below: -Presentations at contests -Organized teaching activities -Cultivation and training in specialized clubs -Themes in research and education (61) The presentations at the contests contained impressive, stylistic and popular elements. Organized teaching activities tended to systematize the dances and standardize the step patterns. The distinct and critical view of research and education resulted in the lack of direct and enthusiastic engagement with the dances. The clups where the dances were performed in this process of revival had a wish for distinguishing their dances from the others. Thus the common elements were left out and the differences were highlighted.. Bakka, in his article which he focuses on the following questions ‘Who is in control of the dances in the revival context, and which strategies of control are being implemented? Is the concept authentic a weapon in the battle for control over dance material or is it a neutral standard for measuring certain qualities of dances within a revival context?’ (60) states that he was appointed to establish a research center to support the folk dances and folk music revival movement. Then he mentions the research studies he had undertaken with the local dancers and dance teachers, and the athenticity attitudes of different communities from different parts of Norway. In his studies he encountered with dancers from Tovdal and Nordfjord regions who were inclined to control their dances which they regarded as a private heritage and thus they avoided to share their dance knowlegde with the others in order to protect it form getting stolen. In Telemark where the revival attempts such as organised teaching activities and contests were seen he observed that tha dancers weren’t worried that their dances would be stolen, so they shared them with the others. However they were against the outsider researchers who wanted to document the dances Egil Bakka ends his work mentioning the common wish of the Norwegian locals to define the authentic version of the dances and to have the privilage of teaching them to others in the revival process. As a researcher who supported the revival movement his attitude towards the authenticity battels was to show that the different versions of the dances could be accepted as alternatives and to support the insiders against the researchers or dancers from the outside. Another work that discusses the revival concept is the article Once Again: On the Concept of ‘Second Existance Folk Dance’ by Andriy Nahachewsky. In this article, Nahachewsky opposes the early Western dance historians’ view that regarded folk dances an entity that came out of ‘the pure national spirit of a people’, existed ‘right from the birth of that people itself’ (17) and never subject to change, and benefits from Felix Hoerburger’s first existance and second existance concepts in order to show how dance evolves in the course of history. According to Hoerburger the dance goes through two phases in its history. The first one is the fisrt existance where the dance is an integral part of the soicety it exists in. In its second existance it is no more an integral part of the society, now it’s became the dance of a small group. While in the first existance the dance is an improvisation within a specified framework, in the second existance it consists of fixed figures varying slightly. On the contrary of the first existance where the dance is acquired as a part of the daily life, in the second existance it is taught systematically by the dance teachers o leaders. And with all these properties above Hoerburger defines dance in its first existance as the representative of the original tradition, and as a ‘conscious revival or cultivation of folk dance" in its second existance. Nahachewsky tries to apply Hoerburger’s model to the Canadian Ukrainan dances on which he studies. In this community the dances in their first existance were performed in social events like wedding ceremonies. As a part of the strong revival movement of the comunity the second existance of the dances was presented on the stage with coreography and costumes as the symbol of national and ethnic identity. However, as the study proceeds Nahachewsky realises that this model can’t be applied to every dance. For instance, he realises that a dance called Kolomyika was a variation of a dance flourished in Western Canada in 1960s and the motifs were a part of the second existance of the dance where it was staged by professional dancers. So it was obvious that the elements of the stage dance were being used as a new social dance. The writer rises the question whether this could be referred as a third existance or not. Is it possible for a first existance to emerge out of its second existance? Then the writer formulises new varitions for Hoerburger’s model. For example, the ‘vysoka’ which is a Ukranian dance has never been through a revival stage. And the square dance in America has gone through a revival while its first existance still continued. Or some dances like the coreographies of Igor Moiseyev can only have a second existance without even having the fisrt. The writer creates graphics for each of these examples that can be alternatives to Hoerburger’s model. With this new approach to the model of Hoerburger he reinterprets the historical process of Morris ve Salonsko Kolo dances. Nor, in his article called ‘Dancing with DanceMasters: Shifting Roles and Contexts of Dance Research in Malaysia’ writes about the revival of Malasian dance tradition which came to a standstill at the end of 1970s. As Nor states in the article, at the end of 1970s all kinds of Malasian traditional dances such as the classical repertoire of the court dance or the ritual-healing dance of the mediums began to be forgotten. ‘Malays, the indigenous population of Malaysia, became increasingly obsessed with religious correctness and righteous behavior as the country progressed further into economic independence, selfsustained development, and joining the rank of a civil society.’(34) .By the end of 1970s many Malay dance masters were retired on their own wishes or they were forced to quit because the dance was regarded a non-conforming element in the new religious perception. And no measures were taken to protect or help to progress these dances, they were totally abandoned to their own fate. After almost two decades the negative effects of this negligance started to be seen clearly. While the dances of the other ethnic communties in Malasia continued to flourish, Malay traditional dances were nearly forgotten. And this painful realistaion resulted in restoration and revitalisation attempts for these dances. However, this period of negligance had destroyed the traditional dance teaching system which is one of the major elements of the revival process. It was hard to convince the masters to teach again. But new teachers claiming to have studied with those masters filled their vacancy. However, they lacked the old teaching systems. The dancers demanded to learn with minimum effort and the teachers responded this demand applying short term courses with faster training. So there became an obvious set back in the quality of Malay dances. The nationwide Malay traditional dance competition sponsored by the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Tourism of Malaysia held in 1990s provided the dancers with a milieu where they could share ideas and learn the traditional teaching systems. But there was still a long way to reach the dance quality of the other ethnic groups. The need for the old masters to help the new teachers was obvious, so they tried to convince the masters once again. With huge efforts a few of the masters were convinced. Malay traditional dances were performed by a group of participants so the masters needed the researchers to act out a participant observation and the ones who realised this were successful in learning the traditional teaching system. They would learn the dances within a group including also the master as a member, then they would analyse the dance with the master’s approval. According to the article the masters and the dancers analysed the dances and rearranged them. During this structural analysis and reconstruction process the local dances were moved into new performance areas, the private performances turned into public ones. Dances as ‘Ngajad Indu’ were reinterpreted and these new versions became ‘ Nor ends this work where he defines the revival as ‘a conscious process of reinventing traditions in the name of preservation’ focusing on the fact that ‘orally transmitted traditions like dances cannot be transferred without losing or adding …. new motifs…. that are sometimes personal or bias to the person who is the transmitter’ thus the tradition is reinvented during the revival process. Another writer who uses revival concept in his work is Ayhan Erol. In the article called ‘Revival of Folk Music in Türkiye: Türkü Bar Case Study’ he defines revival as ‘a social movement aiming to restore a musical system which is believed to be vanishing,… or regarded to be a part of the past only’ Erol applies Tamara Livigston’s model presented in her article ‘Music Revivals: Towards a general theory’ to revival of Folk Music in Türkiye and he explains how it happened. According to Livingston, quoted in Erol’s article, the movement aims to things: ‘(1) to serve as a cultural antagonist and an alternative to the mainstream culture (2) to improve the existing culture with the values based on authenticity and historical importance which are stated by the revivalists’ (72). In this process Livingston points out the decisive role of the revivalists because according to her the common characteristic of the seemingly different revivals is the cultural and political agenda highlighted by the revivalists. While forming this agenda they ‘(1) define themselves as opposing to the aspects of the modern mainstream culture (2) attach themselves to a historical lineage related to the revaival (3) present a cultural alternative which they legitimate with authenticity and historical references’ (73). Erol, who points out these ideas of Livingston, undertakes Folk Music in Türkye in three periods. During the first one between 1920s and ’50s folk music was reinvented and institutionalized by the state. The local melodies were collected and categorised and presented to the audience by the state controlled media (TRT). Also this material was integrated with Western Art Music according to the official ‘Westernisation’ ideology. During the second period between 1960s and 70s, music industry started to improve, the number of regional and nationwide contests increased and the Pop or Rock musicians aiming to add a local or political characteristic to his music began to do syncritic woks as Anatolian Rock. He defines the period from 1990s till the present day as the Folk Music Revival. During this period factors like the end of the state monopoly on the mass-media, thus the emerging of the national and local commercial media, the increasing voice of the different ethnic groups within the multiculturalism trend, Alevi cultural and musical revival have triggered the folk music revival. According to him the revival has seven basic characteristics. First one is the core revivalists group who generally regard themselves as the saviors and transmitters of the tradition. In this case this group consists of mostly traditionally trained musicians, amatuers, researchers, art enthusiasts, media and music industry people. These people can have political, intellectual or economical motivations. Second characteristic is the informants or the original resources. The recources in this revival were mostly the recordings of the deceased masters. These were regarded as a parameter to evaluate the revival performances. Another characterstic is the revival ideology and discourse. Many revivalists’ve adopted the official discourse which is ‘folk music is the one and only true music of Turkish people who unite both in joy and in sadness’ They used acustic instruments to distinguish themselves from Pop and Arabesk. The term used to distinguish the restored practice from the others and to emphasise the historical referances is authenticity. However, Erol states that authenticity is used as a legitimating motive to renovating the practice combining it with the elements regarded non-conforming with the original. . Existance of a group of followers is another key characteristic. Erol writes that many musicians living in urban Alevi communities became Alevi music revivalists and they are also seen as the leading actors of the Folk Music revival in Türkiye. Thus they had the support of the most of the Alevi community. Revivalist activities and live performances are the fifth characteristic. People participating in these activities have a chance to experience the ‘aesthetic code’ of the revival and also socialise. The concerts and contests organised by the state, civil society organisations and the local government are important factors to keep the revival alive. Education in order to fix the revival is another key factor. Erol states that education is the area where the authenticity ideology is the most effective. People who acquire the knowledge related to the revival through education feel themselves insiders and they become strongly connected. Commercialization of the revival is the last important feature. Erol points out the need of the music revivals to a revival industry. He also adds that the music industry uses the revival as a catalyst. This partnership creates a contradiction. The revival movement which is against the mainstream culture needs it in order to survive. According to Erol this tension has created two groups within the revivalist: ‘the conservatives’ and ‘progressionists’. After explaining the folk music revival in detail Erol explains the role of the Türkü Bars acting as the stage for the live performances of the revival. He ends his work saying that ‘like all the other revivals the Folk Music Revival in Türkiye is both an antagonist and a product of the modernity not only with the authenticity discourse but also with its industrial products’ (97). When the articles above using the revival concept are considered it is possible to see the common points that they mention about this concept. Firstly, the value of the element subject to revival related to the historical and cultural identity of that community is emphasised nearly all of the works. In the process of revival, the need to move the element to new contexts such as contests, private clubs, türkü(song) bars or organised teaching events is also mentioned as an important factor. Claiming authenticity in order to support the revival is also mentioned both by Bakka and Erol. In the rest of this article I will try to elaborate the revival of Mevlana and Mevlevism started in 1940s in Turkey in the light of the above discussions.

Mevlana Celaleddin Rûmî was born in Balkh, on 30 September 1207. His mother was Mumine Hatun, she was daughter of Emir (Governor) of Balkh Rukn-ad-din; his father was Sultan-al Ulema (Sultan of the scholars ) Mohamed Baha-ad-din Veled. Mevlana and his family left Balkh in 1213 because of the invasion of Mongols and indifference of Kharzemshah administration to religious orders. Rumi's family traveled west, first performing the Hajj and eventually settling in the Anatolian city Konya (capital of the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum, in present-day Turkey) His father became the head of a madrassa (religious school) and when he died, Rumi, aged twenty-five, inherited his position. One of Baha' ud-Din's students, Sayyed Burhan ud-Din Muhaqqiq Termazi, continued to train Rumi in the religious and mystical doctrines of Rumi's father. For nine years, Rumi practiced Sufism as a disciple of Burhan ud-Din until the latter died in 1240 or 1241. Rumi's public life then began: he became a teacher who preached in the mosques of Konya and taught his adherents in the madrassa. During this period, Rumi also travelled to Damascus and is said to have spent four years there. It was his meeting with the dervish Şems-e Tabrizi on 15 November 1244 that completely changed Rumi's life. He became Rumi’s mentor. Proffessor Majid M. Naini, quoted in Can Rumi save us now? by Jonathan Cruiel, describes their relationship as following:

He followed Şems’ advice to disconnect himself from the world of desires and dependencies and to enter into a higher spiritual devotion to the God, on his advice he started performing a whirling dance called Sema, and to listen to mystical music performed on a reed flute. However after two years they were separated by Şems’s disappearance. He grieved over him for years and attributed more and more of his own poetry to Şems as a sign of love for his departed friend and master. In Rumi's poetry Şems became a symbol of God's love for mankind; Şems was a sun ("Şems" means "Sun" in Arabic) shining the Light of God on Rumi. Rumi found another companion in Salaḥ ud-Din-e Zarkub, a goldsmith. After Salah ud-Din's death, Rumi's scribe and favorite student, Hussam-e-Din Chalabi, assumed the role of Rumi's companion. Rumi spent twelve years of his life in Anatolia dictating the six volumes of this masterwork, the Masnavi, to Hussam. He died in 1273 AD. He was buried in Konya and his shrine became a place of pilgrimage. Following his death, his followers and his son Sultân Veled founded The Mevlevi order famous for its Sufi dance known as the Sema ceremony. The order began to expand with leaders appointed to other towns and regions under the leadership of Mevlana’s grandson, Ulu `ârif Çelebi. Eventually, there were 114 tekke (monastery-like) buildings or building complexes established throughout the Ottoman Empire--including ones in Belgrade, Athens, Cairo, Mecca, Baghdad, Damascus, and Tabriz. After the collapse of the empire, following defeat in World War I, the new Turkish government of Ataturk declared all sufi organizations in Turkey illegal in 1925. All surviving Mevlevi tekkes were closed down. Some were made into mosques and a few into museums, such as the main tekke (or Mevlevihane) in Konya (where Mawlânâ Rûmî is buried) and the Galata tekke in Istanbul. ‘The famous Whirling Prayer Ceremony (Sema) which for centuries had been done only at Mevlevi centers inside special "whirling ceremony" halls, was forbidden for nearly thirty years thereafter.’ (Popular…) After this period of thirty years it is possible to say that Revival of Mevlana started in Konya with the first commemoration activity held on his death anniversary on 17 December 1946. Mustafa Özcan gives a detailed inventory of the commemoration ceremonies from then on in his article Mevlana İhtivalleri in Chronological Order. This article provides us with an insight for the revival movement. It is stated in the article that the first ceremony was organized by the People’s House in Konya and he mentions that there were some news on the papers in order to remind people of Mevlana. The ceremony starts with a visit to his grave by the local authorities and clergy, then at the cinema of the People’s House Professor Nafiz Uzluk gives a speech on his life and works in front of a big portrait of Mevlana. Many comments were made by the media on this first ceremony, but the following one printed in a journal called ‘Babalık’ on 19 December 1946 stands out in order to point out the changing context of the Mevlevi tradition. ‘Mevlana, has been commemorated for the first time in a meeting with a social and scientific essence….this little event means a lot of things.’ This meeting with a social and scientific essence contradicts by all means to the private ceremonies held by the Mevlevis on Mevlana’s death anniversary when they celebrated his union with God inside the ‘tekke’. The ceremony was now open to public and it was even broadcasted on the radio. And with this discourse on ‘social and scientific essence’ this practice was an attempt to take it out of its religious context. After this first ceremony, Mevlana continued to be commemorated every year on December 17 with a growing interest from the state, the national and international media and public. The content of the ceremony was also increasing in variety each year. First, excerpts of his literary works started to be read, then examples of the Mevlevi musical tradition were performed, books on Mevlana were prepared and conferences were organised, lastly the new government of 1950 gave permission for Sema to be performed in the ceremonies. In 1951 the ceremonies were organised by Turkish Nationalist Organisation and ministers and members of the parliament were invited. When we add this with the newspaper comments emphasizing Mevlana as a Turkish character, we can say that an attempt to create a national value out of Mevlana had begun. Having such a strong historical figure symbolizing universal peace and tolerance as a national symbol made it easier to promote it in national and international tourism. So, Konya Tourism Congress was held in 1952. The head of the Tourism Bureau of the Press and Tourism Directorate General talked about the importance of tourism and explained how much income a state could have out of tourism showing some examples. (19 "Konya ve Çevresi Turizm Kongresinde Hararetli ve Sert Tartışmalar Oldu", Yeni Konya, Sayı: 1081, 11 Haziran 1952, s.l) This meeting resulted in a desicion to establish a tourism society to improve Konya’s touristic aspects and to turn the commemoration ceremonies into a worldwide event. From 1953 Tourism Society was given this responsibility until it was taken over by the Konya Municipality in 1987. These attempts proved successful and resulted in thousands of people coming from all over the world to watch the ceremonies over the years. In fact the ceremony which started as a one day program turned into a ten days event held between December 7 and 17. The hotels and the restaurants in the city were highly pleased with the income during this season. And a new sector producing souvenirs related to the Whirling Dervishes and Mevlana was created. It was possible to see shops and cafes named after Mevlana and his image was used almost everywhere. During the reinvention of the popular Mevlana figure to be used in the international milieu, his tolerance and humanist character was highlighted, he was shown as a philosopher and a poet rather than a man of religion because this was an image which Western world would buy easily. Today, according to this image he is defined in the official website of Çelebi Family (his descendants) with these words: Rumi, was a philosopher and mystic of Islam, but not a Muslim of the orthodox type. His doctrine advocates unlimited tolerance, positive reasoning, goodness, charity and awareness through love. To him and to his disciples all religions are more or less truth. Looking with the same eye on Muslim, Jew and Christian alike, his peaceful and tolerant teaching has appealed to men of all sects and creeds. However, there are some other Easterner writers who think that he is misinterpreted in the Western world like Massoume Price. In her article called ‘Is Rumi What We Think He Is?’ she clearly states her view on this subject:

Rumi full heartedly accepted the unconditional submission to the will of God as opposed to the will of man. For him nothing and no one including the whole human race was worth anything compared to his beloved God. Ironically he is regarded a Humanist by his modern followers. His beautiful and expensive outfits preserved in his mausoleum at Konya, his magnificent headgear made from the finest fabrics of the time, his priceless Bahrain pearls, gold inlaid ink set, his pen adorned with peacock feather, and beautifully embroidered leather shoes, attest to a life of luxury, wealth and power. Amazingly it is believed that he had no interest in material and earthly life! He is regarded a liberal, one who did not distinguish between mosques, churches and synagogues. Yet his apparent stereotyping of Christians and particularly Jews as evil and dark sided is overlooked. All these different arguments over Mevlana’s character also present different perceptions of Mevlesim with their own authenticity claims. It is inevitable for different groups both in Turkey and abroad to have different authenticity claims based on their perception of the real Mevlevism (even in different cultural circles in Konya), as there are different authenticity attitudes of the local dancers from Norway’s different regions which we see in Bakka’s article. As it is mentioned above Nor defines revival as ‘a conscious process of reinventing traditions in the name of preservations’. In this revival also we can see some attempts to preserve the tradition. Firstly, during the ceremony of 1954 the Sema Ritual was filmed in the Mevlana Museum with a special authorization from the Municipality of Culture in order to be documented for the next generations. Secondly the Ministry of Culture founded two Sema Ensembles claiming to perform Sema in its traditional way. When we consider their performances under the spot lights and in front of the crowded audiences we can clearly say that they reinvent their tradition.

One of the most important preservation attempts is the application to UNESCO for the Mevlevi Sema Ceremony to be declared a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2006. It was accepted and UNESCO declared 2007 the year of Mevlana and his 800th birthday was celebrated by a grand ceremony. However in his article ‘The Popularity of Mawlânâ Rûmî and the Mevlevi Tradition’ İbrahim Gamard argues that according to the Unesco’s policy in the cases where sufficient musicians performing this tradition (Sema) are present, there should be attempts to improve the quality of the musician training and preserving the traditional setting and function of the musical tradition. So this means there should be some attempts that would result in Mevlevi traditions flourishing once again. However, the state is content with simply managing Sema groups for touristic purposes with minimal traditional standards showing this ritual merely as a dance show. The fact that Şebi Arus ceremonies today are filled with curious audience reckless enough to talk on their cell-phones during the ceremony or leave the hall in the middle of it shows that the tradition is being reinvented not in the form of a religious act but as a national symbol used as a tourist attraction.

As a consequence, revival concept is elaborated in the above articles as a social movement aiming to restore and protect a tradition which is believed to be disappeared or partly neglegted. Mevlevi tradition’s transformation by a series of actions starting with a modest commemoration ceremony in 1946 and ending up with a celebration containig firework shows held in 2007 Mevlana Year shows similar characteristics with the case studies in the above mentioned articles, thus it provides us with the necessary ground to call it a Mevlevi Revival.


Bakka, Egil 2002: Whose Dances, Whose Authenticity? In László Felföldi – Theresa J. Buckland (eds): Authenticity. Whose Tradition? pp. 60-69 European Folklore Institute. Budapest

Erol, Ayhan 2009: Revival of Folk Music in Türkiye: Türkü Bar Case Study in Müzik Üzerine Düşünmek pp. 69-96 Bağlam Yayıncılık . İstanbul

İbrahim Gamard. The Popularity of Mawlânâ Rûmî and the Mawlawî Tradition. September 2009 Web. 30 May 2010 < >.

Nahachewsky, A. 2001: Once Again: On the Concept of „Second Existence Folk Dance. Yearbook for Traditional Music, 33, pp. 17–28.

Nor, Mohn Anis Md 2005: Dancing with Dance Masters: Shifting Roles and Contexts of Dance Research in Malaysia of Dance Research in Malaysia. Dance and Society. Dancer as a cultural performer. 22nd Symposium of the ICTM Study Group on Ethnochoreology, pp. 33-40 Akadémiai Kiadó. Budapest

Özcan, Mustafa. Kronolojik Olarak Mevlana İhtivalleri. Semazen Web. 30 May 2010. ‹›.

Massoume Price. Is Rumi What We Think He Is? Iran Chamber Society. 2002. Web. 30 May 2010. Who is Mevlana? Web. 30 May 2010.

Jonathan Cruiel. Can Rumi Save Us Now? Sunday Insight. April 1,2007. Web 30 May 2010.

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