Thursday, November 29, 2012

‘Wedding’ excitement in Konya

“Brother, do not come to my grave without a ‘def’ [old Turkish percussion instrument]; it does not suit you to stand joyless in the presence of Allah...”

Rumi's Tomb, Konya, Turkey

This was a warning given by Mevlana before he had even died to those he thought might visit his grave. And to wit, his lodge was never one of melancholy, anger or hopelessness. Those lofty individuals who had reached an understanding of what death was before death even arrived for them learned how to expect death and saw the moment as one in which they would finally meet their God. This is why every year, the night Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi died is remembered with sema (whirling dervish) ceremonies. In fact, the date of Dec. 17 is now celebrated as a kind of day to come together. Thousands of people from all over the world come to Konya for this event, turning Şeb-i Arus (Wedding Night) into a true celebration. As for the dervishes, they whirl with love for Allah, and as they whirl, hearts fill with love, and they prepare to take flight back into the world around them. After all, hearts filled with such love cannot stay still for long. This year, due to anticipated heavy attendance, the Şeb-i Arus ceremonies will last for a full 10 days, between Dec. 7 and 17.

Şems-i Tebrizi’s gravesite

We took our tour of Konya, starting off with a visit to the gravesite of Şems-i Tebrizi Hazretleri. Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi was born in the province of Balkh (which is the modern day Afghanistan-Tajikistan region). When he was very young, he migrated along with his father to the west, first to the Hejaz (the western reaches of Saudi Arabia), and from there, through Larende to Konya, where they settled. The real reason and inspiration behind Mevlana’s penning of thousands of couplets, not to mention his rising to such spiritual levels, was Şems-i Tebrizi (known in English as Semseddin Tebrizi). As we already know, there were many who were jealous and suspicious of the relationship between Mevlana and Semseddin, and many years later, these people turned on Semseddin, and his dead body was thrown into an empty box in Konya. It is said that the grave we visited was made for Semseddin on top of the pit where Semseddin’s body was thrown.

Renewed dervish cells in lodge

We bid farewell to the grave of Şemseddin and head for the green cupola in our sights. One can feel Mevlana getting closer and closer. The first thing we noticed was the heavy flow of visitors here. So many people clearly feel his call, whether foreigners or locals. We noticed in particular the large numbers of visitors from Far Eastern countries. Surrounded by rose gardens, waiting at the gates of Mevlana’s gravesite is really worth it. There is a lot of construction and repair work going on around here, but it is all a sign of the fact that everything is getting much attention. The Mevlana Museum, which was a functioning lodge until the republican years, and the dervish cells that have been created in recent years really deserve recognition and appreciation. We learned so much, looking at displays and models of older items used by dervishes, according to their particular jobs.

Mevlevi sema every Saturday

All one needs to do is visit Konya once to understand why so many think this place is a “capital of spirituality.” Mosques left over from the Selçuk era, madrasas where so many thousands of students have been educated, grand doors displaying ancient wooden and stone embellishments, the beautiful minarets that dot every corner of the city and of course, the gravesites of these spiritual sultans. After our tour of the city, we return to our hotel. Interestingly, because of all the events taking place in Konya in recent years, it is now even possible to stay in large hotel chains like Hilton and Dedeman. The next event on our program is a Mevlevi “semaı,” or whirling dervish ceremony. Throughout the year, every Saturday night, these ceremonies take place. The cultural center, which is built around an oval-shaped stage, is full and especially so during the Şeb-i Arus ceremonies of December. Before the whirling begins, there is a short talk about “Mesnevi,” Mevlana’s most famous text. The ceremony itself is very serious and done with much respect. Our guide helps us to understand and distinguish all the various positions, emotions and symbols in the whirling. In the part of the ceremony called “selam,” the dervishes move over to the side, turning into groups of two and three. We interpret this as showing what it is to unify in a short time against troubles. The whirling ceremony goes on for two hours and comes to an end with prayers and chants.

Konya ‘sikke’

On the second day of our weekend tour of Konya, we head out to discover some of Konya’s local treasures. On the way we encounter a handicraft that many have already forgotten called hakkaklık. This is an art that calls for much patience, as it requires the cutting of gold and silver that has been hammered or rolled into thin sheets. What emerges is almost lace-like works made from these precious metals. In fact, these craftworks -- which come in forms such as Mevlevi conical hats, Mevlana portraits, 35 besmele prayers and so on -- are now referred to as “Konya sikke,” a reference to the special felt hats worn by the dervishes.

Sille village rises up

Of course, you cannot talk about Konya without touching on its famous cuisine. There is, of course, the well-known meat bread from the region, but also so many other delicious dishes as well. We head for the local Konak Konya Mutfağı and encounter a delicious tamarind sherbet. After that, some okra soup, “tirit” (a local bread cooked with meat broth), oxen yoghurt and ekmek salması (bread and meat sautéed together). We leave after an unforgettable meal and head for the local Konya village of Sille, which is situated around eight kilometers to the northwest of the city. It is an old Greek village, referred to in many historic sources as “Silenos.” Work is currently taking place here to renovate one of the world’s oldest monasteries, the Aya İrini monastery. It is said that Mevlana and his followers came here often to enter into dialogue with Christian learners and intellectuals. There are also caves and etchings in this village from the very earliest times of Christianity. There is also work under way to restore historic Greek homes. In short, the village of Sille has a lot to offer visitors, from the picturesque river that runs through it to the small mosques left over from the Selçuk era to the above-mentioned traces of ancient Greek and Christian culture. All worth seeing on a visit to Konya!

Source: Today's Zaman, Nov. 29, 2012

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