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"The Whirling Dervishes: A Sacred Ritual" draws on 800-year-old heritage

The Istanbul Music and Sema Group will perform "The Whirling Dervishes: A Sacred Ritual" at Sha Tin Town Hall and Hong Kong City Hall respectively on November 14 and 15, taking audiences on a spiritual journey that uses poetry, music and dance to purify the heart, mind and soul. Due to overwhelming response, the performance at Hong Kong City Hall on November 15 is sold out, while some tickets for the performance at Sha Tin Town Hall are still available.

Influenced by the prominent 13th-century Turkish Sufi mystic Mevlana Muhammed Celaleddin-i Rumi (1207-1273) and the Mevlevi Order, the whirling ritual, or Sema, forms a significant part of Islamic mysticism. The New York Times commended the performance for "... an austere beauty, from the geometric figures of the dancers to the music's chain of melodies".

The programme comprises two parts: a Sufi concert and the whirling ceremony, Sema. The Sufi concert features hymns, reading and chanting. Sema is an inward spiritual journey consisting of six parts: Nat-i Serif, a eulogy to the Prophet; Ney Taksim (Reed Flute Improvisation); Sound of the Kudum (Kettle Drum); the Sultan Veled Walk; the Whirling Ceremony, and a reading from the Qur'an and prayer. In the ceremony, the dervishes are dressed in symbolic costumes: sikke (tall hat), tennure (white dress) and hirka (black cloak). They whirl with their left feet planted firmly on the ground, their right hands turned heavenward to receive God's grace and their left hands turned down to convey that grace to Earth.

The Hong Kong visit of the Istanbul Music & Sema Group, whose whirling ritual has been endorsed by the 22nd generation of Rumi, coincides with the 800th anniversary of the birth of the mystic poet and provides local audiences with an exhilarating introduction to the ancient Mevlevi culture.

Mevlana was a mystic poet of Islam who advocated tolerance, reason and access to knowledge through love. He was the first person who worshipped through whirling, known as "Sema". The Mevlevi Order, centred around the thoughts of Mevlana, was founded after his death by his son Sultan Veled. Sema was continued by Mevlana's followers but took its final form as a religious ritual 150 years after Mevlana's death. The members of the Mevlevi Order are known to the West as "Whirling Dervishes" because of their whirling ceremony. They believe in worshipping in the form of music and dance. The order was influential under the Ottoman Empire, and remains an active Sufi order in Turkey and many other countries.

The Istanbul Music and Sema Group aims to introduce Mevlana, his works, Turkish Sufi music and whirling rituals to a wider audience as well as to ensure the continuation of Mevlevi culture. The group combines Turkish classical music, Sufi music and the whirling ceremony in engaging performances that closely adhere to centuries-old traditions. The ensemble has given numerous performances on four continents.

"The Whirling Dervishes: A Sacred Ritual" is one of the highlights of the Mediterranean Arts Festival presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. Only tickets for the performance at Sha Tin Town Hall on November 14 at 8 pm are still available.

Tickets priced at $340, $220 and $120 are available at URBTIX outlets. Half-price tickets are available for full-time students, senior citizens, people with disabilities and Comprehensive Social Security Assistance recipients. Booking discounts of up to 20% are also available.

Programme brochures are now available at URBTIX outlets or at the website .

For programme enquiries, please call 2370 1044. Telephone reservations can be made on 2734 9009.

Ends/Wednesday, November 7, 2007

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