Saturday, January 5, 2013

25. Whirling Dervishes!

On Christmas Eve, the hubster and I met up with our friends (who were in town from Austria) for a lovely Turkish dinner—followed by my first experience watching whirling dervishes.

Honestly, I thought these shows were true performances but, in fact, they are religious rituals. No clapping allowed. It's interesting and mesmerizing to watch the Sufis move through the ceremony with deliberation and concentration. The group we watched had a young member who really was captivating in his dance movements. It's one "touristy" event I won't mind seeing more than once.

The show was performed by members of the Mevlevi Order, a Sufi order founded in Turkey. Let's begin with understanding that a Sufi practices the mystical dimensions of Islam which they call Ihsan (perfection of worship). According to Wiki, classical Sufi scholars define Sufism as "a science whose objective is the reparation of the heart and turning it away from all else but God."

Some history: The Mevlevi Order was founded in 1273 by the followers of Rumi—who was a 13th-century Persian, Muslim poet, theologian, and mystic. They believe in performing their devotion in the form of dance and musical ceremony (sema). The sema represents a mystical journey and spiritual ascent through the mind. Turning (whirling) toward the truth, the follower grows through love and deserts his ego.

Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī | Rumi

Dervishes wear tall, conical felt hats, white robes with full skirts and voluminous black cloaks above it. The hats symbolize the tombstones of their egos, white robes signify the shrouds of their egos, and the black cloaks represent their worldly tombs. At the beginning of the ceremony, the black robe is discarded to signify their liberation from the attachments of this world. A comforting and freeing thought, indeed!

The sema is very specifically practiced and performed in a ritual hall. It begins with a chanted prayer, then kettledrums, and a reed flute. There is the occasional bowing throughout, which signifies salutation from soul to soul. I like the sounds of that—kind of a namaste!

Watch and listen to a small clip.

They complete three circles, then drop their black cloaks and each approach the master with their arms folded across their chest. After bowing and kissing his hand, they spin out on the floor. During the whirling, they keep their right hand palm up (to receive the blessings) and their left hand palm down (to transfer blessings to the earth). This goes on for some time, then they kneel, pray, and start again—times four. Then the sema concludes with them praying for peace for the soul.

UNESCO has proclaimed the "Mevlevi Sema Ceremony" of Turkey as being amongst the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. You can read more about that honor here:

True Masterpieces of Humanity!



  1. Interesting stuff


  2. Whirling dervishes... Whodathunk?

  3. I would like to see this if available when I visit.
    I've read about this in some of my books but not in this much detail. Very interesting.