A Journey into Sufi Traditions

Dec 19, 2023 | Turkey

Travelers seeking a deeper understanding of cultural and spiritual traditions will find the story of Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi and the Whirling Dervishes captivating. This blog post, designed for the curious and spiritually inclined traveler, delves into the life of Mevlana, the origins of the Whirling Dervishes, their practices, rules, rituals, and the instruments that accompany their mesmerizing dances.

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Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi: A Life of Love, Poetry, and Sufism

Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi, born in 1207 in present-day Afghanistan, was a 13th-century Persian poet, Islamic scholar, and Sufi mystic. His family moved to Konya, Turkey, where he eventually became a prominent religious figure. Rumi’s life transformed after meeting Shams Tabrizi, a wandering dervish whose profound spiritual friendship deeply influenced him. This encounter led Rumi to compose thousands of verses in Persian, filled with themes of love, humanity, and the quest for divine truth. His major work, the Mathnawi, remains a cornerstone in Sufi literature and spiritual thought.


The Birth of the Whirling Dervishes

The Whirling Dervishes, also known as the Mevlevi Order, were founded by Rumi’s followers after his death in 1273. This Sufi order turned Rumi’s teachings into a structured practice. The whirling dance, or Sema, is their most distinctive ritual, symbolizing the spiritual journey to reach divine love and enlightenment. The dance represents a mystical journey of spiritual ascent through mind and love to the “Perfect.” Turning towards the truth, the dervish grows through love, deserts his ego, finds the truth, and arrives at the “Perfect.” He then returns from this spiritual journey as a man who has reached maturity and a greater perfection, so as to love and be of service to the whole of creation.

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Understanding the Sema Ritual and Its Symbolism

The Sema ritual is a highly structured ceremony with several parts, each symbolizing different spiritual stages:

  1. Naat and Taksim: A eulogy for the Prophet Muhammad, followed by a solo improvisation on the reed flute (ney), symbolizing divine breath giving life to everything.
  2. Devr-i Veled: The circular procession symbolizes the birth of humanity.
  3. The Four Selams: Each ‘Selam’ or salutation has a distinct meaning, from embracing all creatures with love to witnessing the spiritual splendor of creation.
  4. Concluding Prayer: A recitation from the Quran, sealing the Sema with divine approval.
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The Rules and Discipline of the Dervishes

The Mevlevi Order follows a strict discipline, emphasizing detachment from worldly pleasures, regular fasting, and meditation. Dervishes lead an ascetic lifestyle, dedicating themselves to prayer, community service, and the practice of Sema. Their training can last years, requiring deep spiritual and physical discipline.

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The Whirling Dance: A Blend of Art and Spirituality

The dance itself is a physically demanding, meditative practice. Dervishes wear white robes symbolizing death, a wide skirt representing the shroud, and a tall hat symbolizing the tombstone. The right hand is raised upwards to receive God’s blessings, which are then spread to the world with the left hand facing downwards. The whirling is not just a performance but a deeply spiritual act of worship.

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Instruments That Elevate the Sema

The music accompanying the Sema is as significant as the dance. The primary instrument is the ney, a reed flute symbolizing the human soul seeking union with the divine. Other instruments include the kudum (a type of drum), the cymbal, and occasionally the oud or qanun. The music, composed in specific traditional modes, is integral to the spiritual atmosphere of the ritual.

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Today, the Whirling Dervishes are celebrated annually on December 17th, the night of Rumi’s union with the divine, known as Şeb-i Arus (Wedding Night). Visitors to Turkey, especially to Konya, the heartland of Rumi’s legacy, can witness this mesmerizing ritual. The experience is not just a tourist attraction but a window into a centuries-old spiritual tradition.

The legacy of Mevlana and the Whirling Dervishes is a testament to the enduring power of spiritual art and devotion. For travelers seeking more than just sights, witnessing the Sema and exploring Rumi’s teachings offer a profound journey into the depths of love, mysticism, and universal connection. This experience is not just about observing a ritual; it’s about touching the essence of human spirituality that transcends boundaries and time.

For those intrigued by the mystical world of Mevlana and the Whirling Dervishes, a visit to Turkey, especially Konya, offers an unparalleled opportunity to witness this captivating blend of devotion, art, and history. As a travel agency committed to enriching journeys, we invite you to explore this spiritual heritage and immerse yourself in the timeless wisdom of Rumi and the mesmerizing dance of the dervishes.

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If you are in Istanbul or in Cappadocia, we can easily help you to join one of the Whirling Dervish rituals. Please contact erkan@istanbulprivatetour.com or +905353606731 for WhatsApp.

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