The Twirling Dervishes practice Sufi whirling which is a physically active form of meditation that originated in certain Sufi groups (Sufi is a mystic branch of Islam). Twirling or whirling is practiced by the Sufi Dervishes of the Mevlevi orders and others. It is a meditation practice performed with a worship ceremony. Derivatives of it can be found in other Islamic countries like in Egypt where the dancers wear brightly colored dresses.
While twirling in physical meditation the dervishes aim to reach the source of all perfection (or karma). Spinning one's body in repetitive circles is seen as a symbolic imitation of the planets orbiting the sun.
Brief History Of Mevlevi Sufism
Of the various orders of Islam, Sufism is defined as the inner and mystical dimension. The Mevlevi Order was formed in 1312 in the Turkish city of Konya. Konya remains the heartland of this practice and can be seen performed there today. Konya is in the center-west of Turkey and was once the capital of the Anatolian Seljuk Sultanate during the waning years of the Byzantine Empire.
The Mevlevi Order soon expanded across what became the Ottoman Empire and in its heyday it boasted some 114 tekke (or monasteries).
- Peak: At Its Peak, The Mevlevi Order Had 114 Tekke
After the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the wake of WW1, Turkey was forged as a secular republic, and Sufi organizations were declared illegal and the monasteries were closed or transformed into mosques or even museums. The ban was introduced in 1925 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkey’s first president.
The ban was partially lifted in 1953 (and then further in the 1990s) and soon they become a popular attraction. Two of the most important that managed to survive are the ones in Konya (where the order's founder Mevlana is buried), and the Galata Mevlevihanesi in Istanbul.
- Main Cities: The Two Main Cities Of The Twirling Dervishes Are Istanbul and Konya
Symbolism Of The Ceremony
The performances are full of symbolism and meaning. The long white robes with full skirts the dancers wear symbolize the shrouds of their egos. Their tall conical felt hats represent the tombstones of their egos. Over their robes, they wear a long dark cloak that embodies the dancer's worldly life and are thrown off during the ceremony.
The dancers also fast for many hours before the ceremony. When they spin, they keep their eyes open but unfocused. The whirling is accompanied by music consisting of a singer, a flute player, a kettle drummer, and a cymbal player. For those who would like to learn more about this mystic order - they have their own website detailing their practices and symbolism.
Seeing The Twirling Dervishes Today
Today, two great places to see the Twirling Dervishes are in Istanbul and in Konya.
In Istanbul: The Galata Mevlevi Museum or tekke is one of the most famous places to see the ceremony. it is located on Galipdede Caddesi and the ceremony is held every Sunday at 17.00. One can only buy the tickets on location starting Saturday around noon. the maximum capacity is 150 and the performance is often sold out. Tickets cost 50 Turkish Lira and kids are free if they don't need a seat. If one can get the ticket, this is an important part of spending the perfect weekend in Istanbul.
- Location: Galata Mevlevi Museum
- When: Every Sunday at 5.00 am
- Limited: The Seating is Limited So Buy The Tickets As Soon As Possible
- Cost: 50 TL ( Around $7.00)
There is another ceremony held on Thursday evenings as well in the Fatih district. To attend this contact Les Arts Turcs - a cultural center organizing workshops. This is more expensive but it is more informative where more of the ceremony is explained. This is a real ceremony and less touristic than the one above and so there is less whirling and more chanting.
Tip: One Should Dress Modesty When Attending (Also Fatih District Is A Conservative District and It Is Advised To Dress More Modestly there)
In Konya: Konya is a major Turkish city inland away from the coast. It is known in Turkey to be a conservative city and is the birthplace of the Mevlevi order. Here one can attend the ceremonies without reservation and free of charge at the Konya Cultural Center. It is held in a large hall and there is normally plenty of seating.
- Cost: Free
Before going to Turkey, like every country, there are some things one should know before so that one can get the most out of one's trip to this stunning country. Turkey is an ancient country that boasts some of the world's deepest history.