Fast Facts

  • Location: Konya in Turkey
  • Significance: Event
  • Attraction Type: Spiritual performance, dance, Mysticism
  • How to Reach: Istanbul is well connected to all major cities in the world. Konya has its own airport, which is about 18 km. from the city. It can also be reached via a three hours drive from Ankara.
  • Nearest Airport: Konya Airport

The whirling dervishes, in their ecstatic trance, spinning on their right legs with arms outstretched to the sound of traditional and formal music presents one of the most exquisite sights in the world. Watching the Whirling Dervishes of Konya can transport you to a state of divine realization. It is an ancient practice and has continued unchanged for the last seven hundred years. When you travel to Turkey, attending a Sema, or a whirling dervish performance is something you cannot afford to miss.

History of the Whirling Dervishes
The performance of whirling dervishes or the ‘Sema’ is integrally connected to the school of Maulvi Jalaluddin Rumi, which is why they are often referred to as the Mevlevi Order. Rumi, a Persian saint, and mystic of the 13th century stressed the dhikr — or the union with the divine as the purpose of spiritual pursuit. He stressed dance as one of the most potent forms to attain this. Whirling, in a way that everything whirls around a central entity or on its own — the Sun, the Moon, the planets, etc. is seen to hold the key to access the divine mysteries. It leads to the loss of ego, attachment, and sorrow, and puts one in a trance-like state, where one can feel one with the Divine. Formally, these whirling performances are known as the Sema and the performers, who are mystics, are known as the Amazons.

The Sema is primarily a method leading to man’s unity with the Divine being, like all mystic methods. The Dervishes believe not merely in studies of theology but in a personal experience of this unity and realization of the Divine within oneself. The dance is well structured and built in a manner that this union is finally perpetuated. Everything from the various parts of the performance, the music and the hand gestures are formalized in a way that the intensity of the divine unity is stressed.

Dress of the Whirling Dervish
A Sema traditionally takes place in a Semahane or a whirling hall. The dress of the whirling dervishes is set by customs and rituals. There are clear symbolic connotations of every item of dress that they put on before performing the dance. The white gown symbolizes death, the black gown on it is a symbol of the grave and the high brown cap of kula symbolizes the tombstone.

The performance of the Whirling Dervishes
Ideally, a Sema performance starts with a song in praise of the Prophet Mohammad or Naat. This is followed by a reed-flute interlude that is known as Taksim. The idea is to emphasize separation with God. Then the denizens bow to each other in recognition of the divine breath in each one of human beings, followed by the recitation of a short dhikr and the removal of their black cloaks. Then the actual dance begins. During the beginning of the whirling, the denizens assume the characteristic gesture of an extended right palm towards heaven and a lowered left palm towards earth with their heads tilted towards the right. As representatives of moons, the dervishes slowly and gracefully start whirling around the Sheikh, who stands in between as a representative of the sun. As they dance around the sheik, always controlled and understated in their movements, they perform the foul Salaams. Each selam or gesture of recognition (like bowing) has a significance of its own. The first is in recognition of the presence of the God, the second is the recognition of his existence in unity, the third is the ecstasy one experiences in unity with him, and the fourth is the symbol of peace of the heart when the Divine unity has finally been perpetuated — this is where the Sheikh joins the dance. This ceremony comes to an end with the Taksim. The entire performance ends with a concluding prayer and another Taksim. The Sema is thus complete.

Where to See the Whirling Dervishes
Semas are held all over Turkey. However, the best place to experience a Sema is in Konya itself, the city of dervishes. Visit the mausoleum of Jamal ud-din Rumi. Whirling dervishes still perform for tourists. The Sema is regularly performed here and is accessible to the public.

Accommodation in Konya
Konya attracts a steady stream of visitors because of its rich heritage and mystic charm. So, there are quite of few hotels there as well. Some of the popular ones are the Ozkaymak Hotel, Rixos Hotel, Dundar Hotel, and the Selcuk Otel.

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