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Why the Whirling Dervishes Whirl

This blog post was updated on November 2, 2018.

One of the top attractions in Turkey, behind visiting the Aya Sofia and perhaps Cappadocia, is viewing a good show of the whirling dervishes.

The whirling dervishes were definitely on the top of my list, and this past trip to Turkey opened up the opportunity for me to finally get to see them do their thing… to whirl and whirl in a spiritual journey.

When I arrived at the Caravanserai outside of Goreme (near Cappadocia), I didn’t really know what to expect.  We entered a cool open room with a set of benches on all four corners of a dance floor.  I had my camera in hand, but was quickly scolded and advised that photos during the ceremony were strictly forbidden.  After a few quiet minutes, a group of men holding instruments made their way to  one of the sides of seats.  Then, a line of men in the typical dervish dress came and sat down in the floor with heads down and eyes closed.

We were led into the evening with a man’s solo singing, much like the singing you might hear on the call to prayer loud speakers in Muslim areas.  The singing turned to the solo Turkish flute playing, which then turned into duet flute playing, until finally a small band started to take flight.  That also meant that it was time for the whirling dervishes to awaken from their quiet prayer to start their spinning, or the act of reaching the Perfect.

Combined with the unique music, I must say that the whirling dervishes are mesmerising, but the fact is that I didn’t understand much more than it being a spiritual journey before that night.  And so I researched…

The whirling ceremony is used by the Sufis, particularly of the Mevlevi Order, as a way to remember their God.  A dervish himself is a young man that is in an apprenticeship, so to speak.  They wear a white frock, a black overcoat (removed for the whirling) and a felt hat.  The sheikh of the ceremony wear black and do not whirl.  Instead, the dervishes must greet him three times before starting the process of spinning.

The spinning is thought to be a way to reach a state of meditation – one where egos are shed and the source of perfection is reached.  Once they reach perfection, they are then better able to forget themselves and give back to others.

I found the spinning combined with the unique music to be an enjoyable experience.  However, do be aware that watching men spinning for more than a half hour can become monotonous.  If you have the opportunity to view a show, try to find one that is no more than an hour.


Photo: Vyacheslav Argenberg

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