The ancient Sufi dance, Whirling Dervishes, is an important cultural and spiritual tradition among the Sufi group. Besides, this dance is a significant attraction to visitors and other outsiders because, to them, watching the Turkish dancers spin is breathtaking.
However, Rumi’s whirling dervishes is not just a source of entertainment for the devoted members of the Mevlevi Order of Islam. To them, whirling and spinning is a customary meditation practice. It is also a worship ceremony that aims to reach Karma, the source of all perfection.
The dance is unique to the dervishes because they let go of their ego and personal desires to get involved fully in the music. It seems easy to do when watching, but you need a lot of practice to be an expert.
If it is your first time hearing about Sufi dance, you probably wonder what it is, the meaning of the dancing clothes, and the direction the dancers spin. This article has all the answers about the whirling dervishes, how it started, its art, and where you can see it.
What is Whirling Dervishes and Why is it Called That?
There is a long history of the origin of the whirling dervishes. The Mevlevi Order, a Sufi order whose origin is in Konya, was founded by followers of Muhammad Balkhi Rumi (Mevlana Celaddiin-i Rumi). Rumi was a Persian poet in the 13th century and an Islam theologian. The Mevlevis remembered their God by whirling.
Whirling is moving in a circular motion in speed and force, resembling the Mevlevis dance. Dervish is another name for the Mevlevis Order. Therefore, since dervish danced by whirling, the dancers were called whirling dervishes.
The Mevlevi Order was established 750 years ago, and its traditions are mostly related to the teachings of Rumi. Rumi’s other name is Mevlana, the most celebrated poet in Turkey and Iran. He is also respected in Sufi Islam.
The History of Whirling Dervish
The Sema ceremony was characterized by the whirling and spinning dance, a characteristic of a Whirling Dervish. The dancers’ goal was to achieve a state of Sufism, which gives them inner power and peace to connect with the world.
Whirling Dervishes was introduced 700 years ago by the Mevlevi Order of Islam, which was established by Rumi’s son, Sultan Veled, with the help of Husameddin Chelebi. Sultan was an excellent leader of the Mevlevi Order, and his extraordinary leadership saw its growth and spread to other cities. For example, Mevlevi spread to countries like Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, and Palestine.
Before his death, Rumi met Shams al-Din of Tabriz, a mystic who changed his life. According to him, the mystic was a representative of perfection, and although he had a devoted group of followers, he started following Shams.
Rumi’s students and followers watched him ditch his values and rituals in disbelief to follow Shams al-Din’s. They were angry and attempted to break the mystic’s hold over Rumi. The students succeeded by killing Shams al-Din in 1247, which affected Rumi and went into mourning.
At the end of his mourning period, Rumi introduced new ideas about celebrating God’s love. And that was the birth of Sema ceremonies. The Dervishes dance in long white gowns and full skirts and cover their heads with tall hats.
When they cast the tunic off during the ceremony, it is an indication that they are turning their backs on the world to draw closer to God. The sheikh of the dervish lodge wears a waist-length woolen jacket to represent Islamic law. The conical hat, which can be brown, grey, or black, represents the tombstones of their egos.
Mevlana Whirling Dervishes Festival
The whirling ceremony is mainly structured into four parts:
1. Naat-I Sharif
The ceremony begins with the naat, where a solo singer recites a eulogy to the prophet Muhammad. The tribute is concluded with a Taksim on the reed flute to indicate the divine breath that gives life to all living creatures.
2. Devr-i Veled
The Devr follows, where the semazens walk slowly to match the rhythm of the peshrev music. They then slap the ground forcefully to represent God’s word of creation, ‘Be.’ The semazens then make a circuit in a single file around the hall thrice. At the beginning of each circuit, they bow to their partners at the front and back.
The bow is significant because it represents God’s breath into every living animal. Once the dervishes finish bowing, they remove the black cloaks.
3. The Four Salems
The Salems represent the main part of the ceremony, which begins with musical movements. The first one represents the birth of human beings to truth and through submission to God. The second Salem equates to the rapture of humankind and the omnipotence of God.
The third Salem represents the transformation of the rapture into love. It also represents submission and unity, and the final Salem represents the semazens’ acceptance of the whole self and that they are God’s servants.
4. Quranic Recitation
The Quranic recitation is the final stage of the ceremony. The verses said during the recitation are God is in the East and West, and His face is everywhere.
Which direction does the Whirling Dervishes spin?
The whirling dervishes dance by moving their bodies and arms with the combination of music. However, although it looks entertaining to the other people, the ritual is sacred and focuses on the relationship between body and soul and man and God.
The dancers step forward with their arms crossed in front of the chest. They then raise their arms and hold the right palm towards heaven to receive God’s benevolence and the left towards the earth. The dervishes then start whirling in a counter-clockwise direction.
How long do they keep spinning?
Each section of the ceremony lasts about 10-15 minutes, meaning it is the average time the whining dervishes spin. During the dance, one foot is firmly on the ground to support the spinning. The other free foot crosses the one on the ground and helps the body turn independently.
How do Whirling Dervishes keep from getting dizzy?
The body has parts that help to balance the entire system. For example, the eyes, deep senses, inner ear, and brain ensure you have enough balance. Besides these body parts, the dancers also gain more balance from their attire, inner peace, and diet. These prevent the emergence of nausea and dizziness.
Why aren’t women whirl?
In the early years of the Mevlevi Order, men and women gathered to pray, share spiritual conversations, and whirl together. Later, the men started isolating the women to dance separately, forming their groups.
Things have changed, and today, only men can be whirling dervishes according to traditions. However, some places like Istanbul allow women to dance with men.
Whirling Dervishes Art/Paintings
If you fancy art, get ready to collect many beautiful pieces from the Whirling Dervishes Ceremony. They are available in painting posters, life-size posters, art prints, and framed prints. You can buy the art from Etsy, Amazon, or social media platforms.
Where to see Whirling Dervishes in Istanbul
Witnessing the whirling dervishes in person gives you a different experience from what you would get from a screen. So when you visit Istanbul, ensure you pass by Galata Mevlevi Museum to have a glimpse. The museum is in Galipdede Caddesi, and ceremonies happen on Sundays at 17.00 hours. The tickets are available at the location, and they start selling on Saturday at noon.
The hall has 150 seats, and tickets sell out fast, so ensure you book some days before. If your kids tag along, they will be privileged to watch the dance for free. However, they won’t get a seat. Nevertheless, if you are in Istanbul, this is a show worth attending.
Where to see Whirling Dervishes in Konya
If included on your itinerary on a Saturday, Konya is actually the original place to watch the whirling dervishes ceremony. People here watch the dancers for free, and you don’t need reservations. The ceremony takes place in the Konya Cultural Center, a big hall with plenty of seating space.
Book Your Trip to Watch Whirling Dervish
Now that you know how the whirling dervish started, its significance to the Sufi people, and where you can watch the dance in Turkey, you can start booking your next trip with us. There is more to learn about this cultural and spiritual dance, and it is more entertaining to watch in person. If you are already in Turkey, pass by Konya Cultural Center or Galata Mevlevi Museum for a breathtaking experience.
Book with us today for an exciting experience.