Humanity’s struggle against the Devil is a subject matter that finds its way into all divine religions and ancient literature. Cast from Heaven for refusing to prostrate before Adam, the Devil enters a long vendetta with humanity to trick us and exact his revenge before the time given to him by God is up. There is a strong parable in Rumi’s collection of seven sermons ‘Majāles-e Sab’a’ (‘Seven Sessions’) regarding this topic. The parable of the Monk Barṣīṣā tells the story of a righteous healer tempted by the devil. The İstanbul State Theaters’ play ‘Barṣīṣā’ is a good
adaptation of this famous parable recounted by Rumi. Written by Boğaç Babür Turn and Gülebru Turna, and
directed by Gülebru Turna, the play is commendable in its staging, acting, music, and costumes. Eray Cezayirlioğlu
gives a sober depiction of Barṣīṣā’s transformation by the trickery of the Devil; and Onuryay Evrentan Atasalihi
and Can Sözeri perform admirably as a demon and the Devil respectively. Considering that adaptations of this
nature are not sufficiently encountered in our theaters, Barṣīṣā is an important specimen. In view of the limitations of state-funded theaters, contemporary interpretations of classical texts have to be easily adaptable. Our greatest hope is that efforts like these drive forward the much needed and lacking search for a native and authentic language
in our theaters and help similar works proliferate.
TRAVEL BACK IN TIME THROUGH A PARABLE
Rated 15+ perhaps due to its öylesiphilosophical depth, the play captures the audience into the parable through
a setting that stretches back in time. An academic in search of the secrets of Mawlaw’īyya, Professor Mâtuf thinks
that a manuscript by Calligrapher Hilmi Effendi, which he seeks, is in the Mevlâna Museum. When he descends
to the storage of the museum, he finds himself out of space and time, located in the reality of a parable. Neither the
work he is seeking nor the clerk who should aid him are to be found, but two storytellers greet the Professor, who suddenly transforms into the protagonist Barṣīṣā. The storytellers watch Barṣīṣā from above and narrate the journey to the viewers with erudite verses from Rumi. These two characters in a way embody the way stories are depicted in the ‘Masnavi’. It is as if this parable recounted by Rumi is no longer a parable but the synopsis of a struggle as old as humanity.
Healer Barṣīṣā is a devoted believer competent in the science of medicine. He complements his cures with prayers to heal the sick. His reputation is such that it is rumored there are no maladies he cannot remedy. To those who try to
praise him, he says that it the wisdom of the Creator, and that “There is no cure without prayer, we are just instruments to wisdom.” Meanwhile, the Devil looks for ways to prove a point by turning a most faithful victim to his ways. Barṣīṣā’s incorruptible stance makes him a target. The Devil calls upon his sons and promises to the one who
can corrupt Barṣīṣā the status of “the truest son”. One of them takes up the challenge.
IS JOSEPH CAST DOWN THE WELL ONCE?
At this climactic point, the viewers prepare for what’s to come by the Devil’s tirade. “We have a blood feud with humanity,” says the Devil, “From the day we were cast out to the Day of Resurrection, nobody will be safe. We flow in the veins of the son of man and mix in his flesh, but he does not know this and cannot see it.
I swear on God who has given me time, we can lead anyone astray… The ignorant and the versed, the sinner, the worshipper, the old and the young, nobody is out of our reach; unless pure of heart… Those who worship money, those who love worldly possessions, those charmed by position and status, the proud, those who enjoy praise and flattery, the gossip, the miser, those who curse circumstances, those who love lies, those who doubt destiny, they are our companions.
Is Joseph cast down the well once? In every man is a Pharaoh, a Nimrod… Saleh’s grazing camel is reborn every generation, and slain again… In every man walks a Joseph; and for every Joseph, brothers ready to cast him to
a wolf or well. Every moment is an opportunity to lead astray those who do not brace themselves… Make the straight look crooked and crooked look straight, divide through spoiling the tame and causing delusions and creating trouble, spread fear and intimidate, hand hush money to the greedy and blindfold to the coward, and thereby incite the atred of the cruel and increase his darkness. As son of man competes for worldly ambition, we coil up in his heart without his knowledge. Because so it was permitted to us.”
The cursed Devil chooses the emperor’s daughter, Theodora, to seduce Barṣīṣā. Nightmares make her sick through bad dreams, then, in the guise of devotees, they enter the palace to point at the healer Barṣīṣā as the only one who can cure her. Barṣīṣā cures Theodora on her first visit and sends her back. However, the Devil starts the second phase of his plan, and makes her sick again. In the guise of a devotee, the Devil counsels the desperate emperor to send his daughter to Barṣīṣā until she is completely cured. The young woman goes to Barṣīṣā again, and an unavoidable affair begins. The young woman gets pregnant. The Devil’s plan proceeds flawlessly, and he whispers to Barṣīṣā to kill the woman. The fallen angel describes to the healer how he can bury her in the garden and cover up his tracks. Yet, ultimately, the truth gets revealed and Barṣīṣā is brought to the gallows. Appearing to his victim at the last moment, the Devil promises a rescue in return for a prostration by the fearful healer. As the devoted Barṣīṣā bows before the Devil, the Devil leaves his victim alone with his sins and torment, saying “I am completely distant from you.”
A PARABLE FROM RUMİ’S SEVEN SESSIONS
The parable that inspired the play is from Rumi’s work titled ‘Majāles-e Sab’a’ (‘Seven Sessions’). It is a collection of seven sermons Rumi gave in meetings or from the lectern—before meeting Shams on November 29, 1244—collected and dictated possibly by his son Sultan Walad. According to Asst. Prof. Dr. Nuri Şimşekler’s article on ‘Majāles-e Sab’a’, this work has fewer manuscripts than both ‘Masnavi’ and ‘Dīvān-e Kabīr’, the oldest and the most important of which rests in Mevlâna Museum Library compilation no. 79. The work was first translated into Turkish under the name ‘Mevlâna’s Seven Sermons’ in 1937 and published alongside the Persian original. Under the editorship of Ahmed Remzi (Akyürek), Prof. Dr. F. Nâfiz Uzluk prepared the Persian text, and M. Hulûsi the translation; but the publication was criticized for typesetting and translation issues. Leading Mevlâna and Mawlaw’īyya researcher Abdülbaki Gölpınarlı translated ‘Majāles-e Sab’a’, and published it with an analysis and index in 1965 in Konya. This translation was reprinted in 1994. The sermons are believed to have been compiled from his khuṭbahs delivered at the congregation’s request during Friday prayers.
Playwright: Boğaç Babür Turna, Gülebru Turna
Director: Gülebru Turna
Dramaturge: Volkan Taha Şeker
Prop Design: Aytuğ Dereli
Costume Design: Derya İnci
Lighting Design: Serhat Akın
Music: İhsan Gürsoy
Choreography: Yeşim Alıç
Assistant Director: Onuryay Evrentan Atasalihi
Director’s Assistant: Zekayi Metin
Cast: Gökalp Kulan, Eray Cezayirlioğlu, Can Sözeri, Hakan Güngör, Ozan Uz, Onuryay Evrentan Atasalihi, M. Zeynep
Aytekin, Metehan Kuru, Zekayi Metin, Büşra İlay Tiryaki, Cenk Dinçsoy, Hayrettin Mutlu, İbrahim Cem Tek, Bulut Mesci, Burcu Başaran Yanger, Merve İleri, Burçin Özkaya, Tuğba Begde