Sari Gul: Whirling Dervishes

Ever since Byron immortalised the famous simile “like
dervishes, who turn as on a pivot” in Don Juan, the dervish
has remained an enchanting fixture in the Occidental imagination.
Sari Gul, the only group in Europe trained in the mystical art of
whirling, mesmerised Oxford audiences into a reverie. For two
blissful hours, the Sheldonian metamorphosed into a cosmic
playground. As followers of the Mevleviyya Sufi order, the entire evening
was conducted more as a religious ceremony than as a performance.
Prayers in Arabic and poetry in Persian accompanied the highlight
of the evening, ‘The Dance of the Planets’, which
symbolised the spiritual journey of every human. With one hand
turned upwards to the heavens, and the other down to the earth,
Sari Gul’s white robes bloomed like luminous corollas, as
the whirling gust beneath their garbs guided them to
enlightenment. They mimicked the harmonious play of the planets
above. Each movement was wrought with such hypnotic grace, that every
individual in the audience sat captivated in leaning pose. One
could still feel the constraints of Western classical notation in
a music style that demands improvisation, a legacy of Sari
Gul’s European background. Nonetheless for one night, Oxford
watched philosophy in action. ARCHIVE: 0th week TT 2004