Whirling Dervishes

  My final story about Konya; the Whirling Dervish performance.



Whirling Dervishes of Konya


Konya Saturday night

It was about a 20 minute walk from our hotel to the Mevlana Culture Center where the whirling dervish performance would take place at 9pm so we left in plenty of time to get there to get good seats. Because the Saturday night performances are free our hotel guy had told us there might be a crowd.

The Martyrdom Monument of the Independence War

The monument honors the memory of soldiers killed at Gallipoli, the Turkish War of Independence, the Korean War, and the Cyprus War. Turkey was neutral during most of WW 2 joining the side of the Allies in February 1945, 2 months before the war ended in Europe.


Mevlana Cultural Center…photo from Wikipedia because I didn’t have one.

The center was opened in December 2004. There is a closed Sema (hall where dervishes whirl) with 3500 seats and an open sema hall with 3220 seats. We sat in the open sema hall under a clear night sky for the performance. I’d say there were about 1,000 people there when the performance started.


The sema hall resembles an ancient amphitheater and the seats are just as hard: plastic on concrete.

“The ceremony begins when the hafiz, a scholar who has committed the entire Quran to memory intones a prayer for Mevlana and a verse from the Quran. A kettledrum booms out followed by the plaintive sound of the ney (reed flute.) Then the Seyh (master) bows and leads the dervishes in a circle around the hall. After three circuits, the dervishes drop their black cloaks to symbolize their deliverance from worldly attachments.“ Lonely Planet

The first 30 minutes were taken up by the recitations (all in Turkish) and the introductory music. Not understanding any of it I became really impatient for the whirling to begin.


The black-robed dervishes enter the sema with the musicians in the background.

“The dervishes dress in long white robes with full skirts that represent their shrouds. Their voluminous black cloaks symbolize their worldly tombs, their conical hats, their tombstones.” Lonely Planet


Seyh (spiritual leader) seated in the spotlight.


The dervishes slowly walk around and greet each other; this is done three times ….very slowly.


At this point they have dropped their black cloaks. The dervish remaining in black cloak seems also to be a master, but I’m not sure.


One by one the dervishes stepped forward and bowed to the master. “Then, one by one, arms folded on their breasts, they spin out onto the floor as they relinquish the earthly life to be reborn in mystical union with God.” Lonely Planet


You can see the dervish on the far left with his arms folded across his chest, touching his shoulder. The next step is bowing to the master and then the dervish begins to very slowly spin, moving his arms and hands into other positions.


The dervish masters walk among the dervishes to make sure their arm positions are correct.

“By holding their right arms up they receive the blessings of heaven which are communicated to earth by holding their left arms down. As they whirl they form a constellation of revolving bodies which itself slowly rotates.” Lonely Planet


There were two groups of dervishes: one remained sitting in the original line while the others performed. It’s hard to tell from my photos but the dervishes had their heads tilted and one hand was pointed up while the other pointed down.


After about 10 minutes the dervishes began to stop twirling.


They regrouped and it was at this point we left.

We had been enchanted by the whirling and it was hard to tare ourselves away, but we’d had a long day and the next morning we were leaving early from Konya on our way to either Seydisehir or Antalya. According to Lonely Planet the whirling was repeated over and over and then prayers were read to close the performance.

These photos don’t come close to capturing the experience. I think it’s one of those things, you just have to see it live. That said, I did find a pretty interesting video about Turkey with a tiny blip about the dervishes that do show you how the whirling is done.


Journeyman.tv This is a 10 minute tour of Turkey, worth watching even though the bit about dervishes is so short. I really didn’t find a great YouTube video and I can’t seem to send my video clip.

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