Mevlevi Ayin

The Mevlevi Ayin Ceremony in the Turkish Republic: Mysticism or Secular Performance?
Maren Lueg
Department of Music
Course: Music of the Near and Middle East and North Africa
MMusic Performance, SOAS
April 2010

The Mevlevi Ayin is a highly developed form of Ottoman art music that evolved around an organized religious ritual, the Whirling Dance ceremony of the Mevlevi Dervishes . It was based on musical composition and poetry, taking the form of an original cyclical suite format. It is the most complex compositional form of Turkish art music and represents the highest development of the cyclical suite composition in the Middle East.
The terms “Mevlevi Ayin Ceremony” or “Mevlevi Sema ” were used in relation to the religious ritual performed before the fall of the Ottoman Empire, in which Dervishes carried out their whirling dance to the musical compositional form called Ayin. The names are still used today for the secular cultural presentation, whilst the authentic religious execution of the “Mevlevi Ayin Ceremony” was banned after the Mevlevihanes were closed in 1925.

My main focus is on the musical performance of the Mevlevi Ceremony, though because the whirling dance cannot be separated from it both must be taken into account. I shall examine how it was affected by political and social changes after the fall of the Ottoman Empire given the secularisation policies of the Turkish Republic, how the Mevlevi Ceremony has been affected by its transfer from the original function as a religious ritual within the intimate environment of the Mevlevi lodge to the platform of government-controlled public performance in the secular environment, and whether the performance of the Mevlevi Ayin Ceremony has maintained mystical significance to performers and audience, despite the ban on the religious activities of the Mevlevi brotherhood.

Historical and social background of the Mevlevi Ayin Ceremony.
The Mevlevi brotherhood bases their doctrines on the poetry of Mavlana Jalal al-Din (d.1273).
Because of a lack of historical evidence within the oral tradition of early Ottoman Turkey it is difficult to source the initial development of the Mevlevi Ayin Ceremony. Initial aspects of the ceremony may have started to developed throughout the 15th to 16th century and come into its defining form from the 17th to 18th centuries.
Mevlevi Dervishes used to receive 1,001 days of reclusive training within the Mevlevihane, where they learned about ethics, codes of behaviour and beliefs by practicing prayer, religious music, poetry and dance. After this training they remained members of the order but returned to their work and families.
Many musicians, trained as Dervishes, started a career at the court, and their mystical view of values within music became part of the philosophy of the Ottoman elite:“In the Ottoman society the Mevlevi order gradually took the role of an intellectual and artistic elite. Its ayin consequently shared many features with “secular” court music.” (Hammarlund 1997:1)
One of the essential aspects of being a member of the Mevlevihanes was to be active in the world as well as in Sufi spiritual practice, so that it was natural that performance style and repertoire overlapped. “…this demonstrates the ‘endurance and flexibility’ of the Mevlevi philosophy…” (Feldman 1996:92) and allowed Sufi musicians to flourish in the secular world of the court as well as follow their spiritual practice, performing for the Ayin ceremony.

The Music of the Mevlevi Ayin Ceremony.
The music of the Mevlevi Ayin is based on musical forms and the usul and makam of Ottoman Empire Turkey and the Mevlevi Dervishes. The ayin is a particular musical form, based on four sections of both vocal and instrumental composition, quranic recitation and taqasim .
A large section of this repertoire that is still played today originates from the late 19th century and early 20th century, when Western notation had been actively introduced to the Ottoman Court. Many of the Mevlevi Ayin Compositions, transcribed and recorded in the 20th century, are claimed to originate from a much older repertoire going back to the 17th or even 16th century. Yet Feldman proposes that “…instrumental repertoire attributed to musicians prior to the end of the eighteenth century must have undergone fundamental recomposition in the course of the oral transmission, so that a musical item known in the nineteenth and twentieth century may have only a very tenuous link with any possible sixteenth, seventeenth or eighteenth century pieces.” (Feldman 2001:52) Many of the earlier Ayin compositions were by unknown composers. The overall structure and main vocal parts of the Ayin were written by a single composer, while the instrumental pieces like the introductory and closing pesrev and semai ‘were taken from other, often non-Mevlevi, sources.’ (Feldman 2001:51)

After the voice, the Ney is the primary instrument for the performance of the Mevlevi Ayin due to its symbolic importance in Mevlanas poetry. It became the principle instrument to explain the theory of Ottoman Art music. For instance, the Ney determined the pitch of every instrument within an ensemble, so that everything was tuned after the Ney. The improvisation of the Ney solo part, played over the drone on the tonic, which was helped by one or several Neys, created a haunting sound which was an essential aspect of the taqasim within the Mevlevi Ayin performance, creating a mystic atmosphere during the ceremony.
The kudüm is one of the most fundamental rhythm instruments in Ottoman Art music beside the Ney, kemence , and halile , one of the fundamental instruments of the Mevlevi Ayin performance. Additional instruments were the tanbur , which was the most important string instrument of Ottoman art music, kanun and santur . The oud only appeared in the performance of the Mevlevi Ayin in late 19th and early 20th century.

Mystical meaning of the “Ayin Ceremony” before the fall of the Ottoman Empire.
Rumi’s poetry creates the basis for the mystical context of the Ayin ceremony. Rumi emphasized in his poetry in many different ways that music uplifts the human spirit to higher spiritual realms.
“ Mevlana Rumi … understood that music means the opening of the gates of Paradise.” (Schimmel 2001:13)
The dervishes relate music and dance to the creation of the universe. The four movements of the Ayin Ceremony symbolize the four elements and the four seasons. The Whirling dance reflects the movement of the planets in the cosmos. Music in the Mevlevi Sufi Order was believed to take the human being from everyday life into another sphere. There are numerous stories passed on as part of the Sufi philosophies or mythology about the influence of music and whirling on the human soul and heart. Dervish literally means “doorway” and describes the Mevlevi Dervish as a symbolic gateway to the spiritual, heavenly world. Dervishes and members of the Mevlevi Lodge believed that through the participation of the Mevlevi Sema the soul releases its earthly ties to commune freely with the divine. For Rumi, music and the cosmos are each metaphors for the other: “ …for in listening to music, the soul leaves its normal orbit and enters higher spheres.” (Schimmel 2001:15) Within the Sema ritual, “…one may attain a spiritual union with God or Allah in a state of mystical ecstasy.”
(Becker 2004: 42)
The meditative dance which is practiced as part of the Mevlevi Ayin ritual involves repetitive turning. The Dervishes can turn around their own axes for long periods of time without suffering any physical complaints or dizziness, remaining fully conscious both during and after the ceremony while experiencing a blissful state. “Sufis use music and poetry as an essential means of reaching a state of ecstatic communion with God.” (Burckardt 1997:282)

Musical education of the Ayin repertoire in the Republic of Turkey.
After the fall of the Ottoman Empire the law permitted purely musical practice of the Mevlevi musical repertoire, provided it had no religious framework.
Mevlevi Dervishes continued gathering and teaching the music of the Mevlevi Ayin to students in secular institutions and in the privacy of their own homes. However, in government controlled academic institutions, based on the western secular educational model, they had to replace the oral tradition of the Mevlevi brotherhood with western staff notation. The instrumental pieces of the Mevlevi Ayin were taught as part of the national heritage under the genre of Turkish Art music, so that musical education was strictly secularized.
In spite of its strong association with the Mevlevi Brotherhood, the Ney maintained its focal point within modern Turkish art music education, though students were often taught in large groups, using sheet music rather than training their ear to the finer nuances of the musical repertoire. Large groups allowed students who couldn’t afford individual lessons to study the Ney, even if it meant the loss of the close master / student relationship that existed within the Mevlevihanes. Many of the Turkish Ney students I have met in Istanbul in the early 21st century had a mystical romantic view of the past, and associated the study and performance of the Ney with a form of personal devotional practice, a vague if untutored and incoherent spirituality.
Secret religious performance of the “Mevlevi Ayin Ceremony” within the Republic of Turkey.
Private groups, led by members of the former Mevlevihanes, continued to practice the religious ritual of the Mevlevi Ayin.
Kudsi Erguner, an internationally recognized Master of the Ney now resident in Paris, is the direct descendent of members of the Mevlevihanes musicians. He is one of the few remaining musicians who, as a child, witnessed the secret meetings of the Mevlevi Brotherhood in the Turkish Republic, illegally practicing the original Mevlevi Ayin in the form of a spiritual ceremony. Through his close relation to the Mevlevi Dervishes he gained a profound insight into the social and political background of the practice of the Mevlevi Brotherhood, who were keeping the mystical practice of the Mevlevi Ayin Ceremony alive within secular Turkish society: “I remember that during the meetings members of the brotherhood stood at each end of the street as lookouts to give warning of any police intervention.” (Erguner 2005:23)

Secularization of the “Mevlevi Ayin Ceremony” Performance.
When official delegates from the United States came to visit Turkey as part of the Marshall Plan in 1953, the Turkish government allowed performances of the Mevlevi Ayin Ceremony, but in the form of a Turkish Cultural heritage performance and in a public, secular, controlled environment. Erguner (2005) reports that the US delegates came to visit the mausoleum of Mevlana Jalal al-Din Rumi in Konya, where the wife of one of the official delegates enquired about the dervishes. A few of the Mevlevi musicians, among them Erguner’s father, Ulvi Erguner, were called upon to organize a Sufi ceremony in Konya.
After this incident the Mayor of Konya, who realised that the performance of the “Whirling Dervishes” could be of significance for the tourist economy of Konya, initiated on the 17th December 1954 a ceremonial celebration to commemorate Rumi’s passing, calling it the Festival of Konya. This was the start of the secular marketing of the once sacred Ayin ceremony. There was a great response from the international community. The mystical aura of Konya, along with the sacred mausoleum of Rumi, formed an ideal platform for the tourist marketing of the festival, placing the performance of the “Mevlevi Ayin” at its centre. The creation of this tourist experience, linking the “Whirling Dervishes” and the celebration of Rumi’s death, attracted thousands of travelers every year, making Konya an international centre for all who were interested in Sufism and the Mevlevi tradition. The fact that Konya, apart from Rumi’s mausoleum, was not strictly speaking a Dervish center for the Mevlevi Dervishes during the Ottoman Empire, was happily ignored in order to feed the legend; this pleased both the authorities of Konya and the visitors who travelled to the Festival of Konya hoping to be part of a secret experience. The streets surrounding the area of the Museum and the performance hall offered commercial souvenirs of “Mevlevi Dervishes” and Rumi. The marketing strategy of the mayor of Konya had been a huge success: the “Whirling Dervish” dance attracted thousands of people every year, happily buying into the “Mystical Spectacular”.
By the early 21st century the “Mevlevi Ayin Ceremony” could be experienced in several places in Turkey on a daily basis, feeding the appetite of the westernized world for nostalgic feelings and mysticism. Meanwhile isolated aspects of the “Mevlevi Ayin Ceremony” were to be found in the whirling dancers who featured in commercial advertisements, and in restaurants and hotels. Segments of the Ayin composition could be heard on commercial trailers and even as backing music in shopping malls.

Involvement of the Mevlevi Brotherhood within the cultural performance of the “Mevlevi Ayin Ceremony”.
The Mayor of Konya invited the remaining members of the former Mevlevi brotherhood to perform the “Mevlevi Ayin Ceremony” in a purely secular context. “The governor of the province told them that the festival was not meant to be anything more than a folklore performance. He warned them that they could get into serious trouble. This was a paradox bordering on absurdity…” (Erguner 2005:47) The remaining members of the Mevlevi Order from Istanbul and all over Turkey saw the invitation as a positive move. “It reminded us of the good old days when it was not necessary to practice the ceremony in secret.” (Erguner 2005:46)
The Mevlevi Dervishes focused their devotion on the ceremony, failing to recognise the destructive nature of the secular environment. Ritter (1962) was invited to join the Dervishes backstage before and after the performance, and reports that the Mevlevi musicians and dancers that took part in the ceremony were positively inspired by the opportunity to perform it. They expressed their joy at performing in the presence of the old Sheiks. “Even through the ritual was presented in a sports hall, the very presence of the sheik made it sacred ground.” (Erguner 2005:47) The public performance platform in itself was not an unusual environment for the Mevlevi Ayin Ceremony. During the Ottoman Empire “the Mevlevi ayin was conceived of both as a ritual which would benefit the participants and as a spiritual concert which would spread spiritual benefit among the audience as well.” (Feldman 1996:190)
This changed after the military coup in the1960s, when the army officers started to attend the ceremonies as a platform for their propaganda and speeches.
“A mockery was being made of the tradition” (Erguner 2005:47) As Erguner (2005) reporters, television cameramen would intrude into the performance, so that on one occasion the three sheiks chased them out of the hall, an incident which caused a scandal in the eyes of the officials and army generals. As a result the core members of the Sufi community of Istanbul were banned from the following Festival at Konya. Instead, young men from the local community were selected to replace the dancing dervishes and trained for the ceremony in the following year. They were dressed and made to look like dervishes to suit the tourist market. Mevlevi musicians familiar with the Ayin repertoire were made to play for the newly trained dancers as part of the Whirling Performance in Konya. In the eyes of the Dervishes the Konya ceremony, now marketed as folklore, was quite discredited.

Environment of the cultural performance of the “Mevlevi Ayin Ceremony”.
Several Mevlevi Lodges, such as the one at Pera in Istanbul dedicated to Galip Dede, had been converted to museums, whilst others were transformed into Mosques. Ritter (1962) had first witnessed a Mevlevi Ayin Ceremony in the Mevlevi Lodge in Pera during World War one. He attended the Ceremony at the Mevlevi Lodge in Pera as a guest of the Mevlevi musician and musicologist Rauf Yekta Bey (1871 – 1935). By the time Ritter visited the Festival of Konya in 1960, the Mevlevi Ceremony was performed in the biggest hall available in Konya, a Sports hall that offered seats for 1200 people, a far cry from the original intimacy of the Mevlevihanes. Ritter (1962), shocked by atmosphere of the sports hall, noted that the musicians, formerly all but invisible, were now in a prominent position on a brightly lit stage in the anonymous atmosphere that characterises the industrial consumer age.

Commercial and cultural performances of the “Mevlevi Ayin” started to take place all over Turkey as tourist attractions, with varying degrees of sincerity and quality, some venues enhancing the atmosphere and mystical value of the ceremony performance, others reducing it to tacky tourist entertainment. The Galata Mevlevi Dervish Lodge in Istanbul, closed in 1925 and now a Museum, is currently one of the most attractive platforms for the cultural performance of the Mevlevi Ayin.

In September 2005 I had the opportunity to watch a Cultural Heritage performance of the so called “WHIRLING DERVISHES CERMONY” in the historical Sarihan Caravanserai in Cappadocia. I was moved by the atmosphere of the ancient Caravanserai. Built in the 13th century, its architecture was spectacular. Visitors entered with a respectful attitude and a sense of awe. The lighting was low and warm, creating a mystic and non-intrusive atmosphere. The audience had received handouts before they entered the hall making them aware of the sacredness of the performance, requesting the audience not to clap and to maintain silence during and after the performance.
Half a century has passed between the initial public performance of the Dervishes Dance in a Sports hall and the one I witnessed in the atmospheric ancient setting of the caravanserai. One can only assume that the Turkish tourist board has researched the international market for their cultural product, concluding that the atmosphere and presentation of the Dervish Ceremony plays a major role in attracting the twenty first century customers for Mystical tourism.

Mystical Experience of the Secular “Mevlevi Ayin Ceremony”.
All sorts of people attended the ceremony and with various degrees of understanding and interest in its cultural or mystical aspect. For some it was purely artistic, aesthetically pleasing, while for others attending the ceremony was a spiritual highlight, which carried profound mystical meaning.
The Dervishes’ performance, taken out of its religious context, was performed for secular motives to an audience of whom most had little knowledge about the background, history and religious practice of the Mevlevi Dervishes. Clearly the performers, trained in government institutions, had limited access to the historic and religious past of the Mevlevihanes, which are still seen as a threat to the secular Republic of Turkey. Inevitably this lack of information about the religious and spiritual background of the Mevlevi ceremony invites speculation about its mystical meaning and veiled past. “We were slowly drawn into the sea of music and whirling, and lost ourselves in the rhythm, the sound and the spirit.” (Schimmel 2001:10)
Some members of the audience had travelled across the world to see the ceremony, whilst others may have stumbled across the performance or even just been delivered as ‘cattle’ processed by the Turkish tourist industry.

Several paradoxes emerge: Does the spectator become part of the process? What is the role of the audience in relation to the ceremony – does their witness help or hinder concentration and sincerity? The audience is expecting to witness mystical secret experience. Yet can ecstasy and mystical ‘spirituality’ be produced upon demand and for commercial purposes? Is the public state of ecstasy in any case not prohibited?

Secret and mystery continue to engage the audience. From a sense of a past lost to most has emerged a nostalgic view of a mystical secret world in which mysticism and sacredness was honored, a paradise where spiritual Masters could guide one to meaning. The performers of the Ayin Ceremony, however insincere or untrained, have become mystical representatives, gatekeepers of the mythology of Mevlevi.

Musical restriction within the secular performance of the Ayin.
Ritter noticed a change in the freedom of the musical execution: the taqasim, which is an instrumental improvisational part usually played by the Ney, was only performed for two minutes, noticeably shorter than the original taqasim performed in the Mevlanihanes. “Many descriptions and anecdotes survive from the 19th century and well into the present time, testifying to the ability of the Mevlevi neyzena to create elaborate taksims performed during the Ayin Ceremony.” (Feldman 1996:190) Neyzen Tafik once played a taqasim for 40 minutes during the Ayin ceremony. Restricting the length of the taqasim is a symbolic statement of the restriction and control in which the ceremony is now performed. The sound of the Ney and the free unrestricted flow of the improvisation was one of the vehicles that allowed the musicians and listener to enter a state of sacredness. “The importance of the ancient dervish instrument, the Ney, was immortalized by Rumi in the opening verses of his”Mesnevi-I Ma’nevi”, in which the wailing of the reed flute symbolises the lament of the soul, cut off from its source.” (Feldman 1996:85)

One of the main aspects of the commercialisation of public performances is the restriction of time and the control of musical creativity. Both are necessitated by the demands of mass entertainment.

The Mevlevi Ayin ceremony, the embodiment of the philosophies of the Mevlevi Order filtered through many generations, was first banned for political reasons when the secular Turkish republic was founded in 1925, but was for years successfully maintained in secrecy underground. Its apparent demise came from a different direction: commercialism. Although the brotherhood code encouraged the Mevlevi Dervishes not to shy away from their place in ‘the world’, since “…musical life immersed entirely in mystical and religious genres would not reflect the actual situation of man in the world.” (Feldman 1996:87)

The perceived power of the ceremony has been most effectively compromised precisely by its encouragement in the secular consumer world, the tourist industry. Superficial training of Cultural Model performers has replaced the long spiritual and musical training of the Mevlevi Dervishes, making the ceremony, for the purists, a performance without meaning. Yet even taken out of its original context as a spiritual ceremony it can undoubtedly still evoke mystical spiritual feelings in members of the audience. Whilst the old discipline has clearly been lost, it is quite possible that the Ayin speaks to a new generation of seekers. Their spiritual education may be shallow, but their yearnings are real. The musical language of the Mevlevi Ayin still speaks, and even if a new generation has only a vague grasp of its spiritual tradition, it is a language still understood.


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