Çayda Çıra (L*)- Turkish Henna Night candle dance

*a Living dance is a 1st Generation dance that is still performed in the country of origin (or immigrant communities) as part of a social event like a wedding where others can participate (not for an audience) by people who learned the dance informally (from friends and relatives by observation and imitation, not in a classroom situation). For more information, click here and here.

Çayda Çıra – the song

Çayda Çıra Yaniyor (CHAYE-dah CHUR-ah) is a Turkish song associated with the city and region of Elazığ, the headwaters of the Euphrates River. Elazığ, according to Wikipedia “formerly Mamuretül-aziz, [in the Ottoman era, DB], was the site of the Armenian-Assyrian fortress and region of Harput, (pronounced Kharberd, in Eastern Armenian, and Kharpert Խարբերդ in Western Armenian). According to the present historical sources, the most ancient inhabitants of Harput was the Hurrian nation who settled in these parts in c2000 B.C. Harput, and its surrounding region was part of the kingdom of Urartu at the period of its maximum extension.[5] The ancient town and citadel called Kharput (Kharpert), which means “rocky fortress” in Armenian, was built by the first Armenian kings about five km (3.1 miles) from modern Elazığ.” Thus the Elazığ/Harput region has been continuously occupied for 4,000 years by Assyrian, Armenian, and Kurdish peoples, with Turkish-speakers arriving about 1,000 years ago. Since the Armenian and Assyrian massacres, the population is mostly Muslim.

Çayda Çıra Yaniyor is a very popular song in Turkey today. It’s considered the song that is most emblematic of the Elazig/Harput region. It’s in an unusual 5/8 meter – unusual because it alternates Slow, Quick, Quick, Slow, over two measures. Listen to the opening drum on the example by Sevim Seçkin below.

That S,Q,Q,S, 5/8 rhythm is common among Kurds and Armenians as well as Turks, so it’s possible the music originated before the Turks’ arrival. The lyrics are based on a legendary event from the mists of time. This website gives an explanation http://elma.pairserver.com/folklore/dances.htm “the twigs are burning in the creek” “Long ago in the city of Elazig, a groom’s party set out to meet the bride’s party. They came upon a creek and had to get across. As they were crossing, a solar eclipse occurred and the sky grew dark. The people in the party lit small twigs to mark their path across the creek. The sight of the burning twigs across the creek at dusk inspired the folk song.

Another source: https://gtactivity.ca/activity/1883Like many Turkish folk dances, Çayda Çıra is performed during weddings. Çayda Çıra is a story of bride being taken away from her parents to her new home with her new husband. The dance begins with the bride being “lost” and the wedding party searching for her by candlelight. Once the bride is found, the celebrations continue on to the wedding ceremony. A henna ceremony is performed for the bride at night, where the dancers form a large circle around the dancer holding candles on plates. The henna and the candles represent protection. There are separate henna ceremonies held for the bride and groom. The tradition varies in different regions. For instance, in Arapkir, only the women who are happy in marriage may perform the dance with lighted candles.”

Nowadays Çayda Çıra is mostly heard on Kina Gecesi (Henna Night) – See: https://folkdancefootnotes.org/culture/special-occasions/henna-night-kina-gecesi-a-favorite-of-turkish-brides/ “Chayda Chira” (“Tea Kindling”) is a candle dance done first by the women leading the bride to her henna party on the night before the wedding, then by both men and women leading the bride to the ceremony on the day of the wedding.”

For lyrics (anyone have a translation?) see: https://folkdancefootnotes.org/music/lyrics-english-translations/cayda-cira-lyrics/

Çayda Çıra – the dance

Below is the only example I could find of Çayda Çıra being used to accompany a Kina Gecesi (Henna Night). As you can see, it’s not what recreational folk dancers consider an interesting dance – more a stylized walking – but it’s a perfect example of how a song and some simple footwork makes a ritual – in this case a processional carrying of candles and gifts. Rather like our wedding ritual where the bride walks down the aisle to the music of “Here Comes the Bride”.

Here’s the only notes I could find for the dance being taught to Recreational Folk Dancers.

As a performance dance in Turkey, Çayda Çıra has MANY YouTubes. This is but a small sample.


John Uhlemann wrote: “a lovely piece. the rhythm is called Curcuna (pronounced Dzhurdzhuna) in Turkish and is considered a single unit in 10, divided 3+2+2+3. You are right about its being around the area – the Armenians love it (one musician who didn’t know the tune I asked for, Shiro Yerk, said “oh, you just want a 10/8 bar…”). Thanks for the youTubes – this goes into my file.”

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