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The Mevlana Festival (Dec 2003)

Once again we owe a huge debt of gratitude to the blessings of Hazrat
Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi for his hospitality in what I heard one person
describe as a 'city of miracles'. It is true that this year was quieter than many
with respect to the usual invasion of foreign visitors - the larger  groups from
Iran, Bulgaria and many western countries were not so evident due
presumably to fears of the turbulent political times in which we live. But
nevertheless the city buzzed with excitement, and the transfer of the large
Sema performances of the whirling dervishes
to a spectacular new purpose built home was accomplished during this time. It was with just a little
sadness that we said goodbye to the Sports Stadium which had become such a familiar place over
the years. To have attended the last performance there and the first at the new venue was to have
been part of history.

Though not quite complete the new circular building, with a vastly increased seating capacity and
spectacular lighting, promises great things for the future and returns to the Sema performance the
dignity it deserves. On the opening night this year the building was packed beyond seating capacity
and was visited by the prime minister and his entourage. Urgent business called him away before
the actual Sema performance but this too had an upside for the many who were standing like me
and were then able to find seats.

This year I was able again to attend the 'Konferance' (conference) at the august Seljuk university
where not only did distinguished scholars speak about Mevlana but we were also treated to a
dazzling and accomplished display of flute (Ney) playing by one of the resident professors.

This also provided an interesting insight for me personally into Turkish culture. I was sitting with a
student of the university and a psychology professor both of whom spoke excellent English. Both
used the term 'perfect' in describing the skills of the musician. I could not help but reflect on the use
of this term - rather than 'brilliant' or 'great' or 'inspired' or some such other term. Then I realised
that, of course, Turkish culture, along with other middle eastern cultures I suspect, is a 'perfect
culture' - that is to say it has within its psyche a perfect model of culture, which includes social
behaviour, which the individual continuously aspires towards. Thus Turkish manners, dress etc - so
subtly impeccable - are a reflection of this aspiration. The western culture has deep in its psyche a
reverence for the new and innovative, the eastern cultures of which Turkish culture is a part, has to
absorb newness into its own pre-existent 'perfect' norms. It is thus that the eastern culture acquires
a subtlety that frequently makes western culture appear crude for all its innovative and challenging

But culture is one thing - the inspiration of the heart another. I was treated to a second (this time
impromptu and private) Ney recital in the office of the hotel at which I stayed. This was by a Mevlevi
musician from the Turkish Government Ensemble that plays at the main Sema. Here there was no
question of 'culture' - this was playing from the heart and speaking to the heart. For just a matter of
perhaps fifteen minutes he played three short pieces each on a Ney of a different size. Then
Mevlana's poetic description of the Ney made a whole new kind of sense. The notes stirring the
heart, making it alive with love. Then culture was nowhere but love was everywhere. The universal
language of Love - the message of Mevlana who was Iranian by birth, Turkish by adoption, a
Muslim by religion, a sufi by calling and a poet by inspiration, but the voice of Universal Love by the
Will of God.

Jamiluddin Morris Zahuri (Southampton, December 2003)