Spinning With the Universe: the Mevlevi Whirling Dervishes in Turkey

We get a fair number of requests to see Whirling Dervishes from our travelers to Turkey. If you ever have the opportunity, I highly recommend it. It’s a fascinating and moving thing to witness.

Sufism is a mystical form of Islam and a Dervish is an ascetic follower of Sufism.

A type of Sema, a Sufi ritual, whirling is most associated with the Mevlevi order of Sufis founded in Konya, Turkey. The Mevlevi Dervishes are followers of the 13th-century mystical poet Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi-Rumi, better known in the West simply as Rumi. In Muslim countries, he’s more often referred to as Mevlana or Mevlevi, which means “our guide.”

Spinning is done to align mind, body and heart with the fundamental movement of the universe and all it contains. Everything is revolving, from subatomic particles to stars, planets and galaxies. Each element of the ceremony in some way symbolizes the submission of the ego to the oneness of God. The camelhair hat worn by the dervishes represents “the tombstone of the ego.” Dervishes remove their black cloak to begin the ritual, symbolizing spiritual rebirth. The white skirt worn while spinning is the ego’s shroud. Dervishes spin with arms wide, right hand open to heaven and left hand pointed down, forming a channel for God’s blessings to flow to the earth. There are four movements to the Sema, each involving submission of different aspects of self to God.

You can witness the Whirling Dervishes in Konya, where they originated, and in Istanbul. Konya is located in south-central Turkey and makes a good stop when traveling between Cappadocia and the coast. It’s perhaps the country’s most conservative city, very religious, and the site of the Mevlana Mausoleum. The Konya Cultural Center has weekly whirling ceremonies that are open to the public. The timing is changeable, so I won’t commit to anything specific here. In Istanbul, Dervishes are whirling daily at various locations. If you’re going, let us know and we’ll get details.
If you’re lucky enough to attend a whirling Sema, please remember that it is worship and should be treated with the proper respect.

Be Lost In The Call
by Mevlana Jalal ad-Din Rumi

Lord, said David, since you do not need us,
why did you create these two worlds?

Reality replied: O prisoner of time,
I was a secret treasure of kindness and generosity,
and I wished this treasure to be known,
so I created a mirror: its shining face, the heart;
its darkened back, the world;
The back would please you if you’ve never seen the face.

Has anyone ever produced a mirror out of mud and straw?
Yet clean away the mud and straw,
and a mirror might be revealed.

Until the juice ferments a while in the cask,
it isn’t wine. If you wish your heart to be bright,
you must do a little work.

My King addressed the soul of my flesh:
You return just as you left.
Where are the traces of my gifts?

We know that alchemy transforms copper into gold.
This Sun doesn’t want a crown or robe from God’s grace.
He is a hat to a hundred bald men,
a covering for ten who were naked.

Jesus sat humbly on the back of an ass, my child!
How could a zephyr ride an ass?
Spirit, find your way, in seeking lowness like a stream.
Reason, tread the path of selflessness into eternity.

Remember God so much that you are forgotten.
Let the caller and the called disappear;
be lost in the Call.

Poetry Corner – Rumi on Ramadan fasting

There’s hidden sweetness in the stomach’s emptiness.
We are lutes, no more, no less.

If the soundboxes stuffed full of anything, no music.
If the brain and belly are burning clean with fasting,
every moment a new song comes out of the fire.
The fog clears, and new energy makes you run
up the steps in front of you.
Be emptier and cry like reed instruments cry.

Emptier, write secrets with the reed pen.
When you’re full of food and drink,
Satan sits where your spirit should,
an ugly metal statue in place of the Kaaba.
When you fast, good habits gather
like friends who want to help.
Fasting is Solomon’s ring.

Don’t give into some illusion and lose your power,
but even if you have, if you’ve lost all will and control,
they come back when you fast,
like soldiers appearing out of the ground,
pennants flying above them.

A table descends to your tents, Jesus’ table.
Expect to see it, when you fast,
this tablespread with other food,
better than the broth of cabbages.

Rumi, Ghazal 1739 from Divan-e Shams-e Tabrizi


The city of Konya in the south-central part of our mystery country is best known as the long-time home and resting place of Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi-Rumi, a 13th-century Persian poet, scholar and Sufi mystic. He is commonly known simply as Rumi or Mevlana, which means “our guide.” The Mevlevi religious order was formed by Rumi’s son in the years following his death. The order follows the spiritual teachings of Rumi, which include the Sema ceremony. Entranced participants spin and rotate as a group to connect with the fundamental spinning nature of the universe. This is the ceremony popularly known as the dance of the Whirling Dervish. The Sema can be viewed by visitors in Konya and other cities around the country.

Rumi’s tomb, pictured above, has been a place of pilgrimage for 700 years.

Can you name that country? 
See below for answers.

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Poetry Corner – Rumi: look at love, how it tangles…

Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi-Rumi (also known as Mevlana, which means “our guide”) was a 13th-century Persian scholar, Sufi mystic and poet. He spent most of his life in the area of Konya Turkey.

Rumi taught spiritual fulfillment through love, connection and tolerance and wrote volumes on the subject. He encouraged the use of poetry and music to break through the temporal veil to universal wisdom. Members of the Mevlevi Order are also known as Whirling Dervishes because of their spinning Sema ceremony. Click to read more about the Sema.

Rumi’s message is positive and open and has had wide appeal across religions and cultures for hundreds of years. His tomb in Konya remains a place of pilgrimage today. Continue reading