Introduction to Sufi Music and Ritual in Turkey
It is difficult to appreciate and understand Sufism fully
without an informed exposure to the expressive cultural forms that help
define and enhance it. It is this dimension of Islamic mysticism that
transports the seeker on the path of spiritual attainment into higher
states of consciousness that promise spiritual intoxication (wajd)
and a unique and intimate union, even annihilation (fanâ'),
in the supreme being. This emotional expression of faith is intensified
and externalized in elaborate forms of meditation and esoteric techniques
that are part of ritual ceremonies.
Through ritual, many Sufi orders and Sufi-related sects
throughout the world of Islam have been able to articulate doctrines and
beliefs through artistic traditions such as sung poetry, instrumental
music and dance-like movements (samâ' or spiritual concerts)
and have utilized meditation patterns that combine corporeal techniques
and controlled breathing (dhikr; Turkish, zikr) to induce
or conduct trance and ecstatic states.
In Turkey, the Sunni brotherhoods (tarikat) such
as the Halveti (Khalwatiyya), Rifai (Rifâ'iyya) and Kadiri (Qâdiriyya)
engage in the collective musical dhikr that was the principal Ottoman
dervish ceremony. In the true spirit of dhikr (recollection of
God), divine names and expression of tawhîd (Turkish, tevhid)
(oneness of God with all existence) are repeated to rhythmic patterns
often including rhythmic breathing, body postures with a variety of motions
and hymns (ilâhî), songs of mystical love (gazel)
and mersiye (sung poems commemorating the martyrdom of the imam
Husayn at Karbala'). This form of worship meditation in line or circular
formation is incomplete without recitation of passages from the Koran.
Segments of the Kadiri dhikr ritual were recorded
in two Istanbul dervish lodges (1980 and 1988) by Kudsi Erguner, a Paris-based
musician and Sufi, and issued on CD by the Geneva Ethnographic Museums's
Archives of Popular Music. The ceremony begins with litanies (awrâd)
that include verses from the Koran and praises to the Prophet Muhammad.
This is followed by a poem of praise sung by singers called zakir (Arabic,
dhakir) supported by rhythmic accompaniment supplied by disciples
to the syllables of the profession of the faith (tahlîl formula).
After a gazel (ghazal) is sung, the dhikr proper
begins (Zikr-i Hay), which is chanted by the dervishes and forms
an accompaniment for the zakir, who performs a poem of praise to
the Prophet and then two ilahi-s (hymns sung to precomposed melodies
that were the principal artistic forms produced by Sunni tarikat-s
in Turkey). A taksim (solo instrumental improvisation in free rhythm)
concludes the this section. Next follows a mersiye and a gazel,
and finally an ilâhî punctuated by repetition of the
syllable Hû (Him). The ceremony ends with the first and then
the last three sura-s of the Koran.
The well-known Whirling Dervishes or Mevlevi order of
Dervishes in Turkey incorporate elaborate choreographies (sema)
accompanied by sung poetry from the Mathnawi of the founder of the order,
Jalal al-Din Rumi (Mevlana), that is set to compositions in the tradition
of Ottoman secular art music (based on the makam/mode system) into
their devotional ceremonies. The musicians who performed this music were
trained professionals and sometimes composers affiliated with the order
who did not seek to enter into a state of trance.
Although there are elements of audition (such as that
of prayers and invocations), the central core of the ceremony is the âyîn
that focuses on the integration of music, poetry and dance and culminates
in dhikr triggered by set forms of movement that increase in speed
and intensity. The introductory segment of the ritual includes a poem
in praise of the prophet known as naat and composed by Itri (1640-1712)
that is sung unaccompanied, a taksim generally performed on the
important end-blown flute (ney), and a perev (prelude or
composed piece for instrumental ensemble in fixed meter that uses a specific
melodic mode (makam) and a metric mode (usûl) comprising
a "great" cycle of 28 primary beats that are repeated twice. It is at
this point that the dervishes walk in procession around the ceremonial
space and engage in ritual bowing.
The âyîn proper begins with the sema
(whirling dance) performed to music (played on classical Turkish instruments
and sung by a chamber chorus) in four sections known as (selâm-
s). During the third selâm there is an increase in tempo
(where a waltz rhythm is used) and a slowing down during the fourth where
an air of restraint is once again maintained by the dervishes as they
end the dance. The instrumentalists then perform a concluding prelude
(son perev) and a concluding composition (yürük semai)
followed by an instrumental taksim and recitations from the Koran.
Instruments heard in a recent recording of a complete
Mevlevi ceremony (âyîn in the makam/mode of
Ferahnâk Airan) by the Mevlevi Ensemble of Turkey (1995) are ney
(end- blown flute), kanun (trapezoidal, plucked zither), kemençe
(bowed, pear-shaped lute held vertically on the knees), tanbur
(long-necked, plucked lute with frets), ûd (short-necked,
fretless, plucked lute) and kudüm (a pair of small kettledrums).
The esoteric ceremonies of the rural and more recently
urban-based heterodox Alevis (and related village Bektais and Tahtacis)
reveal shamanistic survivals of a Central Asian Turkic past, Shi'i tendencies
where the imam 'Ali is almost deified and a filiation with the Bektai
order of dervishes. Formerly known as Kizilba, the Alevis were viewed
with suspicion and mistrust because of their so-called clandestine activities
and inclinations to revolt against the authority of Ottoman Sunni authority.
They were stalwart in their support of Shah Ismail of Safavid Persia whose
poetry (written under the pen-name Hata'i) they revered in the past and
continue to revere today.
Alevi religious musical services are referred to collectively
as cem or âyîn. Their purpose is not only to
focus on spiritual exercises that include elements of zikr (without
controlled breathing but with some elements of body posturing) and ritual
dance (sema) accompanied by sung mystical poetry in the vernacular
and the sacred ritual instrument known as balama or saz (plucked
folk lute with frets). They also serve to reinforce social solidarity
and correctness of behaviour through inculcating the beliefs and doctrines
of the sect and saintly figures as well.
Music is performed by individuals recruited from Alevi
communities and descended from holy lineages of religious leaders known
as dede. These specialists are viewed with respect and known as
zâkir, aik, sazende or güvende,
depending on regional usage. Many are also known to be poet/minstrels
(aik, ozan) who perpetuate the tradition of dervish-lodge
(tekke) poets such as the much loved and admired Yunus Emre (13th
century), Nesîmî (14th century), Pir Sultan Abdal, Hata'î
and Genç Abdal (16th century) and Kul Himmet and Kul Hüseyn
(17th century). The poetry was composed in the Turkish vernacular and
follows the principles of folk prosody known as hece vezne in which
the focus is the number of syllables.
The specialized sacred musical repertoire of Alevi musicians
includes deyi (songs of mystical love), nefes (hymns concerning
the mystical experience), düvaz or düvâzdeh
imâm (hymns in honor of the 12 Alid imams), mersiye (laments
concerning the martyrdom of the imam Huseyn at Kerbela), miraclama
(songs about the ascent of the prophet Muhamad to heaven) and sema
(ritual dance that is accompanied by folk lutes and sung poetry).
The dances are performed with dignity by couples, and choreographies employ
circle and line formations as well as arrangements where couples face
one another, thus synchronizing their movements more closely. As the tempo
of the music increases, the figures become more complex and intense. There
are many regional variants of sema, but the most widespread and
important are the Dance of the Forty (Krklar Semah) and the Dance
of the Cranes (Turnalar Semah) where the movements of the
dance illustrate links to a shamanistic legacy and the transformation
of shamans into birds who take flight.
The gathering of the forty saints refers to the moment,
after the Prophet’s ascension to heaven, when he beheld the manifestation
of Divine Reality in Ali. The Alevis believe that this gathering can be
viewed as the prototype for their central rite (âyîn-i-cem,
görgü cemi), the Rite of Integration. This is a complex
ritual occasion in which a variety of tasks are allotted to incumbents
bound together by extrafamilial brotherhood (musahiplik) who undertake
a dramatization of unity and integration under the direction of the spiritual
leader (dede). The dede interacts formally with his 12 assistants
and the body of worshippers as he applies Alevi religious idioms that
reinforce links to Sunni Islam, the Bektai order of Dervishes and Shii
Islam as well. The âyîn-i-cem can be heard on the JVC
CD Turkey. An Esoteric Sufi Ceremony. Unfortunately for non-specialists,
the notes are very vague and give no indication of location, performers,
musical genres or poetic forms. The recording was made in Istanbul in
1993, and the ceremony includes in an order typical of a cem: a
deyi that reiterates the line of descent of the sect in a historical
framework, two düvaz (one based on the poetry of Hatayi, and
the other on the poetry of Kul Himmet), prayer formulas, the illâllâh
genre that incorporates the tahlîl formula into the poem
to create an atmosphere of zikr while sect members create rhythmic
intensity by hitting their knees in time to the music and sway their bodies
slightly, the Dance of the Forty (Krklar Semah), the Dance of the
Cranes (Turnalar Semah) and prayer formulas.
Similar recordings of the Alevi cem (Alevilikte
Cem) have appeared in Turkey and are useful in supplying information
regarding the names of genres and the order in which they appear, although
the recording mentioned below does not include all of the items mentioned
on the cassette cover.
1. Turquie. Ceremonie des derviches Kadiri. Recorded
by Kudsi Erguner in 1980 and 1988 in Istanbul. Notes by Ahmed Kudsi Erguner,
Abdelhamid Bouzouzou. Archives Internationales de Musique Populaire, Musée
d'etnographie, Geneva. AIMP XII. CD-587. Recording can be purchased from:
Musée d'etnographie, 65-67 boulevard Carl Vogt, CH-1205 Geneve;
tel. (4122) 28 12 18.
2. Returning. The Music of the Whirling Dervishes.
Recorded in 1995 and performed by the Mevlevi Ensemble, directed by Dogan
Ergin with Kani Karaca as featured solo artist (in place of a chorus).
Interworld CD-916. The âyîn featured on this recording
was composed by Dogan Ergin in the makam/mode of Ferahnâk
Airan. Recordings can be purchased from: Interworld Music Associates,
RD3 Box 395A, Brattleboro, VT 05301 or tel. (800) 698-6705.
3. Turkish Music. Music of the Mevlevi. Unesco
Collection--A Musical Anthology of the Orient. Recordings and Commentary
by Bernard Mauguin. Barenreiter Musicaphon. BM 30 L 2019. This long-play
record was not made recently but is valuable because of the detailed notes
and accompanying photographs.
4. Turkey. An Esoteric Sufi Ceremony. CD recorded
in Istanbul in 1993 under the supervision of Dr. Tsutomu Oohashi. JVC
World Sounds. VICG-5345. Manufactured and distributed by Victor Entertainment,
Inc., Tokyo, Japan. The recording is useful as documentation of an event,
but the accompanying notes show little or no understanding of the subject
5. Alevilikte Cem 2. A commercial cassette (12271)
recorded and produced in Istanbul, Turkey, that presents an entire Alevi
cem and identifies the individual genres heard and the zakir
(singer and balama player), Adnan Klç. Pnar Müzik
Üretim ve Yapimcilik Tic. Ltd. (Fax: 513- 5087).
* Posted with the permission of the author