Although Turkey is a vibrant land of impressive cultural heritage, one phenomenon stands out from the rest. It captures the attention of tourists and believers from the entire world, but it’s equally interesting to locals. It’s hypnotic, unusual and, in a way, calming. Yes, we are talking about the whirling dervishes.
Their authentic dance is a mixture of meditation and a religious ritual. In the text below, we will unpack everything, starting with what the word dervish means to this specific ceremony. At the very end, we’ll show you where you can witness it yourself. Continue reading for a captivating story!
Who are they?
To fully appreciate it, you should understand a thing or two about this spectacle. First of all, let’s start by defining the term dervish in the most simple way possible.
A dervish or a darwish is a type of Sufi (Sufi being a person who practices Sufism). Sufism is a mystical form of Islam which focuses on the inward search for God. It accentuates the personal, spiritual connection with God and self-improvement through various rituals and practices.
Although Sufism is present in many Islamic countries, Turkey is known for the Mevlevi Order of Sufis and their whirling. The order was formed in the 13th century and it still exists to this day.
The members, known as whirling dervishes, are all followers of the very famous Persian poet Rumi. It is believed that he created their well-known traditional ritual called Sama or Sema. The proof is that some references to it have been found in his poetry!
The Whirling Dervishes Ritual – Basics
Sama is one of UNESCO’s Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. It includes music, prayer, various stunts, and their signature spinning.
The point of the ritual is reaching spiritual perfection and maturity through hypnotic states and trances. The goal is to abandon your ego completely, disconnect from your earthly possessions and focus solely on love and God. The trances are the culmination of the practice and they can last up to several hours!
Sometimes, the trances are so deep that the dervishes go through unimaginable physical and mental strain almost effortlessly. It’s not rare that they pierce their cheeks and throats with large needles without feeling a thing!
The ritual is very precise and well planned and that’s why there are always exactly four stages of it. They are packed with symbolism relating to Islam, the power of God and the gift of life.
The Phases of the Ritual
If you decide to witness one of these rituals, you should be introduced to its phases. It will help you notice their switches and really understand their significance.
The first phase is called Naat and Taksim. During this part, a solo singer recites or sings the Noble Eulogy, which praises the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. This part is followed with a solo improvisation played on the ney (a flute heavily used in Middle Eastern music).
During the second segment, Devr-i Veled, dervishes walk counterclockwise around the sheikh (the ritual leader) three times. They then bow to each other and remove their dark cloaks which mark their earthly life.
The third portion is known as The Four Selams. This is where the magic actually happens. Pay attention to the position of their body – it is not accidental! Their right palm is turned upwards, towards God’s blessings, while the left one is facing the Earth, distributing those blessings.
The first Selam describes humans accepting that they are creatures of God. Then, the second one celebrates the rapture of humans when they witness and experience God’s omnipotence.
The third symbolizes complete surrender and submission to God and his power and love.
Finally, during the fourth Selam, the sheikh joins in and the dervishes descend back to the Earth to continue serving.
The fourth and final part of the ceremony is the reading of the Qu’ran and a prayer led by the sheikh.
There’s a clear answer to that.
If you think about it, the continual movement is the natural state of things in the universe. The planets of the Solar system revolve around the Sun, atoms and their components move without stopping, etc. Therefore, the dervishes chose their whirling and dancing as a crucial part of the ritual. They view it as moving in complete harmony with all dynamic things created by God.
The Clothing and Its Symbolism
The practitioners’ outfits are also a very important part of the Sama. They wear long white robes that end in skirts and they symbolize the ego’s shrouds. Over that, they have dark cloaks which, as you remember, represent the earthly life, which is why they’re removed during the ceremony.
They also wear tall dark hats, which are viewed as tombstones of their egos.
Besides being a religious ritual, the whirling dervishes show is a very popular tourist attraction. Witnessing it is an entertaining, mind-blowing experience, but remember: be respectful and never applaud during the ceremony!
Whirling Dervishes Istanbul
Now that we’ve explored this fascinating practice, here are some suggestions on where you can enjoy it. Istanbul is one of the best places on Earth to see whirling dervishes and here are the exact places where you can do that.
This is one of the most popular spots for whirling dervishes ceremonies. You can enjoy the show each Sunday at 5pm, but you can’t buy tickets before Saturday. Therefore, there’s a chance you won’t be able to get in. If you do, though, you will be in awe of their performance!
Address: Şahkulu Mah. Galip Dede Caddesi No: 15 Tünel PK:34420 Beyoğlu/İstanbul
Hodjapasha Cultural Center
In case you miss the Sunday show, the Hodjapasha Cultural Center has them each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 7pm. You can also visit one of their exhibitions dedicated to whirling dervishes.
Address: Ankara Caddesi Hocapaşa Hamamı Sok No: 3.B;
Yenikapi Mevlevi Lodge
If you’re on a budget, this is one of the places where the entrance is free of charge! The rituals are held on the first and the third Thursday of the month, as well as the last Friday. However, you must call them in advance to make a reservation. You can ask your hotel or a host do it for you.
Address: Merkezefendi Mah. Fatih Sultan Mehmet Üniversite Kampüsü, 34015 Zeytinburnu/İstanbul
If you’re ready to explore more of Turkey, here are five must have adventures.