Whirling Dervishes

”Come, come whoever you are, wanderer, idolator,
Come even if you broke a thousand times thy vows,
Come again come, our caravan is not a caravan of despair!”


The History

Dervishes is a Sufi order! Sufi means those first ascetic communities of Islam, which abandoned the mundane, advocating that human destiny depends on the inscrutable will of God. In these communities, initially prevailed ascetic element of mysticism, while over time asceticism was seen as a preliminary step to achieve the spiritual life. The mysticism took the position of asceticism as an objective pursuit. The Sufi communities were directly affected by the oldest traditions and philosophies of East and Mediterranean basin, like Neoplatonism, Gnosticism, Buddhism and Christianity. All these teachings, played a significant role in the final shaping of Sufi teaching, since according to them… ”all traditions lead to a single truth “!

The Whirling Dervishes played a vitally important part in the evolution of Ottoman high culture. From the 14th to the 20th century , their impact on classical poetry, calligraphy, and the visual arts was profound, while music was perhaps their greatest achievement!


Whirling dervishes perform at the Galata Mevlevihane (The Lodge of the Dervishes) in Istanbul. The dervishes are adepts of Sufism, a mystical form of Islam that preaches tolerance and a search for understanding. Those who whirl, like planets around the sun, turn dance into a form of prayer. (Gurcan Ozturk/Getty Images)


The Ritual – Sema

The ceremony has seven parts symbolizing the whirling dervish’s love of God, humankind and all creation:

1. Natt-i Şerif: Praise for God the Creator, for the Prophet Muhammed, and for the prophets before him (Musa/Moses and Isa/Jesus, etc.)

2. Kudum: The beating of a small drum symbolizes the command of God who created the universe

3. Ney: The soulful, breathy music of the ney, the open-ended reed flute of the Mevlevi, symbolizes the breathing of life into all creatures

4. Greeting: The dervishes greet each other three times

5. Whirling: The dervishes drop their black cloaks to reveal white costumes with long, flowing skirts. The dropping of the cloak symbolizes the casting off of falsehood and the revelation of truth. Each dervish places his arms on his chest to symbolize his belief in the Oneness of God, “the One.” Bowing, he kisses the hand of the Sheikh Efendi (spiritual leader) and seeks permission to enter the sema. As he enters, each dervish slowly unfurls his arms, his right hand reaching up to heaven to receive its blessings, the left hand down to communicate them to earth. He whirls right to left, with his heart at the axis of the turn. The dervishes complete four whirling sessions of approximately 15 minutes each, resting briefly between sessions. The Sheikh Efendi joins in the final session, turning slowly

6. Prayer: Prayers are recited from the Kur’an

7. Fatiha: Recitation of the Fatiha, or first chapter of the Kur’an, in memory of all prophets, martyrs and believers, followed by a prayer for the welfare of the nation and its leaders


Where to watch?

  • The Galata Mevlevihanesi is the most famous Mevlevi Whirling Dervish hall. It is located in Galipdede Caddesi, at the end of Istiklal
  • The Rumi Mevlevi also performs in two different locations: at the Press Museum (Basın Müzesi) close to the Çemberlitaş Hamam and at the event hall of the Sirkeci train station
  • The Hodjapasha dance theater offers great atmosphere for this Show. Located near Sirkeci station


Important Notice:

  • This ceremony, even though it looks like a performance, it is still a religious ceremony. Avoid talking, leaving your seat or taking pictures with a flash while the dervishes are spinning
  • Semas are popular among tourists, so buy your tickets in advance
  • Sema is a spiritual act, so please DO NOT applaud while watching. You may kindly do so, if you wish, after the dervishes have left the stage

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