The Dance of the Dervish

Published: Nov 11, 2012, 08:50 IST | Preeti Khilnani |

Ziya Azazi, a Turkish dancer, will perform Dervish in Progress, a contemporary interpretation of the Sufi Whirling dance in Mumbai

Sufi dervishes have a mystical, almost esoteric existence in popular thought, which associates them with the whirling dance movement. One such performance comes to Mumbai, organised by the Turkish Council to commemorate Turkish National Day (October 27).

Called “hybrid contemporary dance” by Ziya Azazi, it reflects his background in trained dancing and years of practice. “I was born in Antakya, Turkey and studied engineering in Istanbul. I then discovered my interest in gymnastics and dancing,” he says over the phone from Delhi.

For 20 years, the 40 year-old has been travelling across Europe, performing, choreographing and learning from the masters. So how did Sufi Whirling happen? “In 1999 I went through a difficult period. I gave up my job as a bartender in Turkey, had a painful break-up and left the company I was dancing for. During that time I wanted to experiment with simple dance movements and I rehearsed with the idea.

” What followed was years of self-training and research in mastering the symbolic dance form of Sufism, a philosophy that originated in the part of Turkey where Azazi comes from. Azazi feels that Sufism is not just a philosophy, but a practice. He believes that words like spirituality are used loosely in the modern context and need to be redefined. He says, “Practising Sufi Whirling has helped me connect with the source within.”

This is the first time Azazi has come to India. “I wish I had come earlier. The images are extreme yet special,” he says excitedly. So what has he loved so far? “It was crazy how I got into a car and drove from Delhi to Agra, saw the Taj Mahal and drove back the same day only to be amazed by its beauty and magnificence and also by such abject poverty on the outskirts of Agra.” 

Having already performed in Goa, Delhi and Dehradun, he is looking forward to Mumbai. “Indian audiences are unique because they are aware of the whirling dance, and yet surprised because my interpretation is western in choreography and eastern in its source,” he feels. 

Sufi Whirling
The order of the whirling dervishes is a branch of Sufism practised by the dervishes of the Mevlevi order founded by the followers of Jalaludin Rumi. The Sema is the worship ritual of whirling to become conscious of your true self. Everything in nature revolves and the whirling is symbolic of planets revolving around the Sun. The camel hair hat that the dervish wears represents the tombstone of the ego, the skirt represents the ego’s shroud and removing the cloak means being reborn to truth

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