The Silent Language Of Dervishes: Tennure

Written by: İpek Tanır – Photos: Ayşe D. Şahinboy

Published at AnadoluJet Magazine (July 2010)

Edited by: Rumi Forum
Any tailor who knows the cut and model of the tennure, one of the most important symbolic elements of the Sema (Whirling), can produce it nowadays. According to Mevlevi tradition, however, only those with special approval could sew the special garments.

A salute signals the beginning of Sema, the ceremony of the whirling. Slowly the semazen (the whirling dervish) raises his arms and begins. As the tempo quickens, his sema gives the impression that he is somehow levitating; his feet seem to dance above the earth. His white skirt flows like waves. Sema is a remarkable ritual. It is a spiritual movement that touches the soul. Mevlevi prayers are read throughout the ceremony and every action by the dervishes has a symbolic meaning. It is this strong spiritual foundation of the sema that gives the dervish’s outfit, the tennures, their meaning.
The dervishes whirl in their white tennures on stage. Every position, every move, even the shape of their garments during the dance tell a story and amaze the audience. To understand the significance of the tennures, one must learn of the language and customs of Mevleviyeh. Today any tailor who has the pattern and model of the outfit can sew tennures, but according to the Mevlevi tradition, only those with specific approval sewed these special garments. Mevlevi garments, previously known as cihaz-? tarik, are very specific in design and tailors in the past were required to know these nuances. Each time the needles passed through the cloth, the tailor would say a prayer. This tradition is no longer practiced, but the vocalist of the Yakar?? Music Group, Ufuk ??ba?ar, continues to give history and information on the different garments such as ‘tennure,’ the dress, ‘haydariye,’ the short sleeveless jacket, and ‘hüseyniye,’ the knee-length long-sleeved garment.
The preeminent tennure tailor in Istanbul, Fahri Tipi, has been sewing Mevlevi outfits since 1980. His master was Hilmi Dede and Tipi is regarded as the last representative of an old tradition. Tipi differs from his master, however, and has always used a sewing machine to make his tennures. Tennures are made from sandy linen and are not sewn according to the size of the people, but according to standard patterns. Tipi has sewn tennures for dervishes in Turkey, the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Austria. Fahri Tipi prefers to wear Mevlevi garments in his daily life. He has sewn almost two thousand tennures in
30 years and when asked “In all the tennures, have you sewn one for yourself and done sema?” he replied that he has not had the time for sema because he has been sewing.

Worlds are hidden in its vest!

A ‘tennure’ is an outfit worn during a tandoori stove service, however there are tennures for daytime wear that are shorter than the ones worn during Sema. Tennures resemble the inverted Arabic letter lamelif, if made into six pieces. In Mevlevi ceremonies tennures represents the dervish’s shroud and thus the majority are white.  According to the tradition, however, colored tennures were sewn for children who had not yet reached adolescence.

Tennuresare sleeveless, collarless, open in the front, and consist of six pieces.  The ‘destegül’ is the tight, button-less, long-sleeved, open-front, waist-length vest, and is one of the most important pieces of the outfit. This vest represents the world. ‘Elifi lamed’ is the black waistband. The base of the tennure skirt is much wider than the top and characteristically makes it easier for the dervish to whirl. Between the top and skirt parts of the tennure, a black waistband called elifi lamed is tied. Skirts are padded with felt to create an aesthetically pleasing curve during whirling. Old masters used lead instead of felt and, since lead is so heavy, the skirts created pleasant curves when whirling.  These days however, care is taken for the felt to be hand-made and the skirts create beautiful waves.
The hat in a tennure ensemble, called sikke, symbolizes a gravestone.  A turban, or ‘destar,’ is wrapped over the sikke.

Descendants of Hz. Mevlana may wrap destar while the Mevlevis may only wrap destar by special permission.  The tip of the destar hangs on the left side, the side of the heart, and is called ‘taylasan’Taylasan is also a special language between sheikhs and dervishes.  If Taylasan is short, then the sheikh talks to his dervishes and listens to their dreams. If it is long, it has different meanings such as ‘I’m angry’ or ‘I’m thinking’.  The hanging taylasan also symbolizes the connection between the brain and the heart. In Sufism, the heart and brain work together thus knowledge and feeling are one.