Whirling dervishes! The name itself suggests something exciting and unforgettable.
The Whirling Dervishes are devotees of Mevlana Jelaleddin Rumi and are called Mevlivi. Rumi was a poet in the 13th century who wrote a series of chants and poems that seek to bring the person into a trance-like state. And this is what the devotees do; they recite verses and whirl as they do the Mevlevi sema, which is kind of a worship service. They do this in imitation of Rumi, who had the fondness of whirling around the streets as a display of joy.
The sema itself is utterly spellbinding. You will surely get caught up in the moment as you watch people in long white clothes doing repeated whirls as they recite or sing an age-old Islamic hymn. This branch of Sufism hold to the belief that one can used whirling to get closer to Allah. Right palm up and left palm down, they proceed to whirl, as they symbolize their renunciation of their life on earth for the privilege of being reborn into a union with God. Palms open up as they ask and are granted blessings from heaven. And in turn, they convey these to the rest of the world. The group then whirls simultaneously.
The sema is a service that is open to all. Rumi, in his writing, has been known to invite others, saying, “Whoever you may be, come.”
The Whirling Dervishes are usually clothed in voluminous white full-skirted robes. Underneath, this robe is another black cloak. They remove the cloak prior to the ceremony. This symbolizes their removal of the concerns and anxieties of the world, even as they don a shroud to cover their ego (represented by the white skirts). As for the music, the instruments used are the kettledrum, the reed flute (ney) and other percussion instruments.
The Whirling Dervishes start the ceremony with prayers and chants. Then they bow to the master and start their whirling. As they whirl, they pause, one by one, to salute the master, as if asking for their blessing.
The best way to watch a Mevlevi sema is to drop by the Mevlana Cultural Center located in Konya. Aside from that, there is the Galata Mevlevihanese at Galipdede Caddesi, which has a Whirling Dervish hall.
Some words of warning, though. The music used by the Whirling Dervishes should never be used for other performances, such as belly dancing. This does not show the proper respect for their sacred music.