CulturallyOurs Ancient Sufi Dancers

Whirling Sufi Dervishes Dancers Of Turkey

CulturallyOurs Ancient Sufi Dancers

There is something extremely mesmerizing and soulful about watching Sufi dervishes whirling around almost in a trance like state. Originally from Turkey, this almost mediative dance form is now practiced in many parts of the world.

Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, also known as Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī, Mevlânâ was a 13th-century Persian poet, Islamic scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic originally from Greater Khorasan. Rumi was one of the greatest thinkers, spiritual masters and mystic poets of all time. His legacy guided whoever wanted to discover themselves, to understand the meaning of life and in essence to find truth. Even Rumi continues to be a guiding source for many people. Every year on 17th December, the night of his death, thousands of people from all around the world gather to celebrate Seb-i Arus, his ‘Wedding Day’, his reunion with the Divine. Rumi was a great promoter of Sufism which is a branch of Islam primarily concerned with developing the spirituality and inner character, of a Muslim.

Rumi is said to have been instrumental in bring the whirling dervishes dance to the world.

It is believed that Rumi would turn round and round while reciting his poetry and this forms the basis for the Mevlevi Order, or Whirling Dervishes, after his death. Dervish means doorway and the dance is believed to be a mystical portal between the earthly and cosmic worlds. The Whirling Dervishes belong to a Sufi mystical sect that was created in 1273 after Rumi’s death in Konya, Turkey. Initially open only to men, the order slowly allowed even women dervishes to participate for about three hundred years after Rumi’s death. In the late 1600, the Sema was prohibited as the dervishes sect were said to be almost as powerful as the king. Finally, after more than four hundred years, men and women are again participating in the Sema together.

In the recent years, the whirling dervish ceremony which is also called ‘sema’ blurs the lines between dance, prayer, meditation and hypnotic trance has become synonymous with Turkey and Turkish culture.CulturallyOurs Ancient Sufi Dancers

Dance of the Whirling Dervishes

A whirling dervish ritual typically begins with prayers and meditation in which each dervish receives a blessing from a superior member of the group. Flutes then play an introductory melody which symbolizes man’s desire for mystic union, and the dance begins. Each dance consists of three stages. The first stage is called the knowledge of God, the second stage is the seeing of God and the final stage is the union with God.

Sufism is a sense of feeling the creator with every fiber of your being. Sufism shuns all forms of materialism in pursuit of asceticism. Sufis are commonly known as persons of religious learning who aspire to get close to Allah.

The dervishes wears long flowing white robes, a conical hat and a black floor length cardigan over the white robes. The conical hats represents a tombstone, the dervish’s jacket represents the grave, and the dervish’s skirt represents a funeral shroud. As the dervishes dance they remove their jackets to show they are shedding earthly ties, and escaping from their graves. Dropping the black cardigan is symbolic to letting go of all the earthy possessions. As they whirl, the dervishes raise their right hands in prayer and extend their left hands toward the floor. The right hand is receiving from God and hence higher than the left hand which is giving that what they receive to man. The dervish keeps nothing for themselves. Their whirling symbolizes the rotation of the universe in the presence of God.CulturallyOurs Ancient Sufi DancersThe service began with a kind of deep breathing exercise, and congregation repeating, ‘Alll-ahhhh, Alll-ahhhh, Alll-ahhhh’ for the word ‘Allah’. Then, to the rhythm of a slow drum the dervish begin to spin counterclockwise. Their voices echo as they repeatedly call out to Allah, spinning faster and faster. Egos and personal identities are abandoned as they attain a spiritual perfection known as fenafillah.

The dervishes sometimes whirl around for six or seven hours at a time. The whirling inflates their white skirts and puts them into a hypnotic trance which they say brings them closer to God. They whirl by crossing their legs and spinning over and over again, almost at a constant pace. Careful footwork and deep concentration it is said keep them from getting dizzy.

Where to see the dervishes dance

The Mevlâna Festival takes place every December in Konya, which is a pilgrimage destination for over a million Turkish Muslims, especially Sufis, in part because of the Mevlâna Museum. This turquoise-domed shrine holds the turbaned tombs of Rumi, his son and followers and the nearby Mevlâna Culture Centre hosts sema performances thought the year. There are also performance in cultural centers in Istanbul and Cappadocia. In America, the whirling dervish center in New York holds classes and retreats as well.

How to experience the dervishes

A Sema is a religious ceremony and should be treated respectfully. It symbolizes the rising of the human soul by releasing the ego to become enlightened, and thus becoming united with God. At a Sema, spectators sit in a semicircle around the dancers in seats or on the floor. The ceremony typically lasts about an hour. It is best to turn off all distractions like cell phones, cameras and such to give the ceremony your undivided attention. The full attention of the audience is integral to the success of the Sema performance. The whirling of the dancers, the chanting along with the soft music are all integral parts of this religious ceremony.

{Photos from @unsplash}

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Leave your comments below

  1. Becki says:

    I’d love to see the dervishes. So I’m a dancer, it’s something I’ve always had as a passion since I was little, and we have a move at dance called a ‘whirling dervish’, and THIS is where it comes from. I hasten to add that it’s a very spinny move 🙂 However, I think there is a lot more background and history behind the move that we just take for granted.

  2. Ann says:

    Oh wow, I love this article, great job!

    I have been to Turkey so many times that >I kind of lost track of how many, but I did not know this, so thank you very much 🙂

  3. Krisztina says:

    Such a fantastic tradition. I was lucky enough to participate in the celebrations exactly 15 years ago in Konya, and keep attending semas in Istanbul in the Mevlevihane. Always magical. Thank you for this great post!

  4. Larch Gauld says:

    I saw the dervishes from a distance when I was in Istanbul, but now I am eager to return and experience them properly.