Whirling Dervishes: Mevlevi Sema ceremony to tour London, Cambridge and Oxford

Watching whirling dervishes perform their devotional dance, a Sema ceremony, is always a moving experience. This centuries-old spiritual ritual unites the mind, heart, and body through the universal language of music and movement.

Later this month, audiences will get the chance to watch the Istanbul Sufi Ceremonies Ensemble, who will be taking to the stage for three performances in Cambridge, Oxford, and London between the 11 and 14 February 2023. The performance of Whirling Dervishes will be accompanied by traditional Turkish Sufi music played by master musicians.

These spiritual ceremonies, which are now 700 years old, are conducted by masters in this their respective field, with elements drawing on Turkish, Persian, and Arabic culture and poetry, as well as a recitation of the Qur’an.

The tour will bring together both the Sema and the Devran Dhikr (remembrance of God), a unique ceremony that contains different Sufi meanings symbolising spiritual ascent. In this ceremony, clothes, postures, movements, and parts all have significant meanings.

The first Sema Ceremony will be at the West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge, on Sunday, 12 February.

The Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford is the next stop for the dervishes, who perform there on Monday, 13 February, with East London’s EartH Theatre the final destination the following day.

Titled ‘Whirling Dervishes: Mevlevi Sema Ceremony and Devran Dhikr’, the tour programme also includes concerts and two lectures.

The Department of Music at SOAS University of London hosts the first lecture and concert on Saturday, 11 February, at 7pm.

The second lecture and concert will take place on Sunday afternoon, 12 February, at 2:30pm, at the West Road Concert Hall, which is part of the University of Cambridge.

Sufi shaykh Mehmed Fatih Çıtlak, who is both the Head of the Dervishes and an accomplished Islamic scholar, will give an insightful talk about the Sema. He will be joined by Owen Wright, who is an emeritus professor of musicology of the Middle East.

The concerts form part of the lectures, where a choir joins musicians playing traditional instruments including the ney (reed flute), Turkish tanbur, Turkish kanun, Turkish oud, classical kemençe. Under the direction of Yüce Gümüş, the ensemble will perform traditional pieces from Ottoman Classical and Sufi music.

The events are being organised by Yunus Emre Institute London.

Tickets for Sema ceremonies

Tickets for the Sema ceremonies are priced £20 with student tickets half price. Students can use the code STUDENT for purchases, with a valid student ID presented at the door.

The Sema performance is approximately 2 hours long, including one interval. Admission is age related, with no children under the age of ten to be admitted.

Organisers recommend guests arrive at least 30 minutes before the start time to allow sufficient time to pass through security checks and find your seats.

Cambridge | Whirling Dervishes: Mevlevi Sema Ceremony & Devran Dhikr

Date: Sunday 12 February 2023

Time: 7pm-9.30pm

Venue: West Road Concert Hall 11 West Road Cambridge CB3 9DP

Tickets: via Eventbrite – click here

Oxford | Whirling Dervishes: Mevlevi Sema Ceremony & Devran Dhikr

Date: Monday 13 February 2023

Time: 7pm-9.30pm

Venue: The Sheldonian Theatre Broad Street Oxford OX1 3AZ

Tickets: via Eventbrite – click here

London | Whirling Dervishes: Mevlevi Sema Ceremony & Devran Dhikr

Date: Tuesday 14 February 2023

Time: 7pm-9.30pm

Venue: EartH (Evolutionary Arts Hackney) 11-17 Stoke Newington Road London N16 8BH

Tickets: via Eventbrite – click here

Main image, top, of whirling dervishes in Istanbul, Aug. 2019. Photo © svklimkin on Unsplash