Last week, I decided to go and watch a ceremony of the whirling dervishes at the Hodjapasha Cultural Center. There are some places where you go, and you feel you will be happy there. Hodjapasha is one of them, and here’s why.
Finding the dance theater is very easy. All you need to do is go to the heart of Istanbul: Eminönü. You can do it by taking a tram, bus, or ferry from any part of the city. It is close to the Sirkeci Marmaray station. From there you need to watch the tramline. Once it turns left, it is a sign for you to follow the straight road next to the tramline. You will see a cafeteria ‘Hafiz Mustafa’. Go past it and then turn left. Hodjapaşa is just there. Make sure to buy your tickets upfront because it tends to sell out very quickly.
Enjoy the Exhibition Before the Ceremony
It is an old building with a very modern twist. Purple neon lights invite tourists inside. Once you enter (after climbing some stairs – the building is not disabled-accessible), you will face history and modernity. Every foreigner will feel comfortable there. The personnel speaks English and is always ready to help. It is always better to be there earlier because you can enjoy an exhibition that will provide you with some useful information before the show. I would strongly advise taking this time to read about Rumi and his philosophy.
During the exhibition, refreshing beverages are served which make it even more enjoyable (fruit drinks, tea, and water are free, but coffee costs extra). The language used there is simple and explains complex terminology in a very understandable way. The exhibit also contains objects that belong to dervishes, such as clothing or books. The room of the exhibition is not a very big one so make sure you come early, before it gets crowded. In addition, the place lacks a cloakroom and there is no space to store any extra luggage, so consider that while planning your trip.
The Venue Is an Old Hamam — A Nice Extra Touch
After the exhibition, the audience is invited to the room for the performance. I was surprised when I entered it. A modern viewer is used to big spaces and big shows, so I was expecting a giant stage with lots of chairs. Instead, I saw a little oval chamber with triangular shapes curved in the walls and bath handles that remind the audience of the bathhouse it used to be. The feeling of surprise did not last long. The sema ceremony is not a show. It is a personal experience of the people who perform it. Dervishes do not do it for the audience. They are only kind enough to let the audience observe this spiritual act.
The little chamber makes the experience more real because you are very close to the whirling dervishes. I could feel the wind from their spinning tenures on my face. The whole design and decor of the place complement the beauty and the magic of the performance. The play of light and shadow on the walls is mesmerizing. It adds to the mystical atmosphere. There are around two hundred seats in the room. You can easily experience the performance from any of them though I would say the chairs are not very comfortable. You need to stay in the same position throughout the whole performance. Interruption is strictly forbidden.
An Unforgettable Experience
The sema ceremony is preceded by a ten-minute video that explains the philosophy of Rumi. It is a very interesting and very informative piece that successfully sums up the complex ideas for an ordinary viewer. The following ceremony starts with a few minutes of music. It keeps accompanying us when the dervishes start their spiritual journey. Each part of the ceremony is explained and described so that the audience can follow what is happening in the dance. Everything lasts around one hour.
Seeing whirling dervishes is an unforgettable experience. It is a must-do when visiting Istanbul. The performance will leave a forever mark on any viewer’s soul. This experience is worth so much more than the price of the ticket. Hodjapasha is one of the best places to experience the ceremony. The unique atmosphere and history surrounding this place will surely help make some lovely memories. Watching the sema ceremony and reading about Rumi’s philosophy may provoke deeper thoughts about everyday life and be a start to a good change. As believed by dervishes: ‘From God we receive, to humanity we give’.
Hodjapasha Cultural Center
Ankara Caddesi Hocapaşa Hamamı Sok No: 3.B, Sirkeci — Istanbul
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