I had long ago heard of Whirling Dervishes but, to be honest, had no idea who they were, what they did (well, ok... I figured it probably had something to do with whirling), or where they were. Until I got to Turkey.
While we were walking by the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, we were (surprise, surprise) approached by a man trying to sell us tickets to a Mevlevi (Whirling Dervishes) show. Still knowing nothing about them, I decided there and then to attend... with a name like "Whirling Dervishes" how could you go wrong? Tickets cost 35 lira per person (normally 40 lira, but he was giving us a deal. The same deal he gives to everyone else).
The show took place in the waiting room of the Istanbul Train Station and, I must admit, until the Dervishes took the stage I was still unsure if it was legit. The "ticket" was a generic piece of cardstock, lacking a date or a number. To my relief, it was accepted at the doors and we were shown into a small room with three rows of plastic chairs set up on three sides of the performance space.
The band came out first, followed by the Dervishes. Since the "performance" is actually a religious ritual, most Orders prohibit photography and recording. We were told nothing of the sort, however, and while I didn't use a flash, photos were obviously fair game.
Two of the musicians
Every part of the ceremony - from the music to the singing to the clothing to the Dervishes' every movement - was highly ritualized. From the moment the music started, I could sense a deep meaning behind every note and action - even if I didn't understand it. It is not choreographed - in that the Dervishes are not always in perfect sync as they whirl - which contributes to the raw feeling and emotion being displayed.
For about an hour, the Dervishes completely transformed the waiting room into a totally different place. Except for the LCD screens of the tourists' cameras and phones that kept tugging me back to reality, it almost felt like I was transported to a different time and space. Eventually, I put MY camera down and let myself get completely mesmerized by the ritual. I especially enjoyed watching the faces of each Dervish as they got lost in the ritual of whirling.
Whether you take the time to research the history of the Whirling Dervishes or not, experiencing their ritual is not something to miss in Turkey. It is almost mystical to watch, and a true thing of beauty.
Info Box on the Whirling Dervishes:
In a nutshell, the Order of the Whirling Dervishes is a branch of the Sufi tradition of Islam. The Sema ritual they perform has deep roots, beginning with the inspiration of Mevlâna Jalâluddîn Rumi (1207-1273). By revolving, the dervishes acknowledge the existence and majesty of the Creator, give thanks to Him, and pray to Him. The ritual, which has been performed for seven centuries, unites three fundamental components of human nature - the mind (through knowledge and thought), the heart (through feelings, poetry and music), and the body (by spinning). It symbolizes the universal values of love and service.
In 1925, Turkey outlawed all Sufi orders, included the Mevlevi Order. It is believed to have survived by continuing their rituals in small villages until 1954, when they were granted limited permission to perform the Sema for tourists. Even today, they are still banned as a Sufi order. To find out more about the order and the ritual, click here.
You can experience the Sema ritual nearly nightly in Istanbul. There are also regular performances in Cappadocia and, of course, Konya (where the order originates and which holds the Mevlana Commemoration Festival in December each year).
Mike and Ashley Lenzen are a married couple from Canada. They spent 21 consecutive months globe trotting between July 6th, 2011 and March 24th, 2013. After two months of touring their own country, they've set out again.
They are currently volunteering for 12 months in the country of Bhutan. Read More...
Last updated January 20, 2014 Statistics kept from July 6, 2011 to present
Countries visited: 20 Total distance traveled: 102,848 km # of different "beds" slept in: 165 More RTW Stats...