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Whirling Dervish Ceremony: What You Need to Know

Updated: May 24

The Whirling Dervish Ceremony is a traditional Sufi practice that has captured the attention of people from all over the world. This spiritual ceremony involves spinning in circles while listening to religious music, and it has been recognized by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.


But what exactly is a whirling dervish, and why is it called that? A whirling dervish is a member of the Mevlevi Order, which was founded by the Persian poet Rumi in the 13th century. The term "dervish" comes from the Persian word "darvesh," which means "doorway." The Mevlevi Order sees itself as a doorway to God, and its members strive to achieve spiritual enlightenment through their practices.


whirling dervish ceromny

The spinning motion of the Whirling Dervish Ceremony symbolizes many things. It represents the rotation of the planets and the universe, reminding us of our place in this vast cosmos. It also represents the constant search for truth and enlightenment, as we spin around and around looking for answers to life's big questions.

But perhaps most importantly, the spinning motion represents surrendering oneself to God. As the dervishes spin faster and faster, they lose themselves in their movements and become one with the divine. This state of spiritual ecstasy is known as "mystical union," or "fana" in Arabic.


The Whirling Dervish Ceremony has been performed for centuries as a form of meditation and prayer. It is said to help participants achieve a state of mindfulness, where they are fully present in each moment and aware of their connection to God. The ceremony also serves as a reminder that we are all part of something greater than ourselves, and that our individual journeys are part of a larger cosmic plan.


whirling dervish on the water

History of the Whirling Dervish Ceremony: Origins and Evolution

Origins and Evolution of the Whirling Dervish Ceremony

13th Century Origins

The Whirling Dervish Ceremony is a spiritual practice that originated in Konya, Turkey in the 13th century. It was founded by Jalaluddin Rumi, a Sufi mystic and poet who believed that through whirling, one could reach a state of spiritual ecstasy and union with God. Rumi's followers were known as Mevlevis and they adopted the practice as part of their religious rituals.


Evolution of the Ceremony

Over time, the ceremony evolved to include music and poetry to enhance the experience. The Mevlevis added instruments such as drums, flutes, and stringed instruments to create an atmosphere conducive to meditation. They also recited poetry during the ceremony which reflected on themes such as love, unity, and devotion.


Spread Throughout Ottoman Empire

The Whirling Dervish Ceremony became an important part of Sufi culture and spread throughout the Ottoman Empire. It gained popularity due to its unique combination of physical movement, music, and poetry. The Ottomans saw it as a way to connect with their spirituality while also expressing themselves artistically.


Today's Practices

Today, members of the Mevlevi Order still perform the Whirling Dervish Ceremony in Turkey and other parts of the world. The ceremony typically begins with a musical performance followed by recitation of poetry. Then participants begin whirling in unison while wearing traditional white robes symbolizing purity.


Understanding the Cultural Etiquette and Expectations for Attending a Whirling Dervish Ceremony


Dressing Modestly and Respectfully

When attending a whirling dervish ceremony, it is essential to dress modestly and respectfully. This means avoiding clothing that is revealing or too tight, as well as wearing items such as hats or sunglasses. It is also important to remove shoes before entering the performance area, which is typically a mosque or other religious space.


Arriving Early to Secure a Good Seat

To fully appreciate the beauty and spiritual significance of the whirling dervish ceremony, it is recommended to arrive early and secure a good seat. This will allow you to see the performers up close and fully immerse yourself in the experience. It's worth noting that some ceremonies may require reservations or tickets in advance, so be sure to check ahead of time.


Refraining from Taking Photos or Videos During the Ceremony

While it may be tempting to capture photos or videos of the whirling dervish ceremony for social media or personal keepsakes, it is important to refrain from doing so out of respect for the performers and their traditions. Instead, focus on being present in the moment and taking in all that this unique cultural experience has to offer.


Avoiding Talking or Making Noise During the Performance

During a whirling dervish ceremony, it is crucial to remain quiet and avoid making any unnecessary noise. This includes talking with others around you, rustling papers or bags, or using electronic devices such as phones. By remaining silent and attentive during the performance, you can fully appreciate its spiritual significance and honor those involved in this ancient tradition.


What To Expect From A Whirling Dervish Ceremony

The whirling dervish ceremony involves dancers known as Sufis who perform a series of intricate movements while spinning continuously in circles. The practice originates from Turkey but has spread throughout many parts of the world as an expression of Islamic faith and spirituality.

As part of their performance, Sufi dancers wear long, flowing robes and tall hats that symbolize their connection to the divine. The spinning motion is believed to represent a journey towards spiritual enlightenment and union with God.


Getting Ready for the Experience: What to Wear and What to Bring

Check the Ticket for the Show's Dress Code Before Attending

Before attending a whirling dervish ceremony, it is essential to check the ticket for the show's dress code. Some shows may require formal attire, while others may allow casual clothing. It is best to follow the dress code to avoid any inconvenience during the show.


Practise Comfortable Clothing and Shoes for the Long Ceremony

Whirling dervish ceremonies can last up to an hour or more. As such, it is crucial to wear comfortable clothing and shoes that will not restrict movement during this time. Loose-fitting clothes are ideal as they allow free movement of limbs and body. Sneakers or flat shoes are also recommended as they provide good support for standing or sitting on cushions.


The Stage Is Usually Set Up with Cushions and Rugs for Seating

Most whirling dervish ceremonies take place in a traditional setting, where seating arrangements are made on cushions and rugs placed on the floor. This setup allows attendees to sit comfortably while enjoying the performance. However, some venues may have chairs available for those who prefer them.


Bring a Scarf or Shawl to Cover Your Head as a Sign of Respect

In many cultures, covering one's head is a sign of respect when entering places of worship or attending religious ceremonies. Similarly, it is customary to cover one's head during a whirling dervish ceremony out of respect for its spiritual significance. Attendees should bring a scarf or shawl that can be used to cover their heads during the performance.


Avoid Using Cameras or Phones During the Show to Fully Immerse in the Experience

Whirling dervish ceremonies are deeply spiritual experiences that require full immersion in order to be fully appreciated. As such, using cameras or phones during these performances can detract from this experience by distracting both attendees and performers alike. It is best to avoid using electronic devices during these shows so that everyone can fully appreciate the beauty and significance of this ancient tradition.


The Mystical Elements of the Whirling Dervish Ceremony: Symbolism and Interpretation


Symbolism and Interpretation of the Mystical Elements of the Whirling Dervish Ceremony

The Whirling Dervish Ceremony is a mesmerizing display of spirituality that has captivated audiences for centuries. This dance, performed by members of the Mevlevi Order, is deeply rooted in the teachings of Rumi, a 13th-century Persian poet and Sufi mystic. The ceremony is an intricate blend of music, poetry, and movement that symbolizes the spiritual journey towards enlightenment and union with God.


Rumi's followers established the Mevlevi Order after his death to continue his teachings. The order is known for its unique form of worship called "Sema," which involves spinning around in circles while wearing traditional white robes and black cloaks. The spinning movement represents the soul's journey towards unity with God.

The white robes worn by dervishes during the ceremony represent their purity. They enter into this state through prayer and meditation before beginning their whirling dance. As they spin around, their arms are raised upwards with one hand facing up towards heaven to receive blessings from God while the other hand faces down towards earth to give blessings back to humanity.


In contrast, black cloaks symbolize their ego's tomb as they seek to transcend earthly desires. The cloak also represents mourning for their separation from God as they strive to find union with Him through whirling.

The Whirling Dervish Ceremony consists of four parts:

1) Naat-i Sharif - a recitation in praise of Prophet Muhammad

3) Devr-i Veled - a slow turning dance that represents birth

4) Semazen - fast spinning dance that symbolizes ascension

  1. Taksim - improvisational instrumental music played on a ney (reed flute) or kemenche (spike fiddle)

Each part has its own significance in representing different aspects of human life and spiritual progression towards enlightenment. The ceremony as a whole is a powerful display of devotion and selflessness that inspires awe and reverence in those who witness it.




The Role of Music, Poetry, and Art in the Whirling Dervish Ceremony

Music: A Crucial Element

Music is an essential component of the Whirling Dervish Ceremony. Traditional instruments like the ney and kudum are used to create a meditative atmosphere. The sound of the ney, a type of flute, is believed to represent the voice of God. It is said that when played correctly, it can bring listeners closer to spiritual enlightenment. Meanwhile, the kudum is a type of drum that provides a steady beat for the dervishes to follow as they spin.

The music played during the ceremony has been passed down through generations and plays an integral role in creating a sense of unity among participants. It helps to facilitate a state of trance-like meditation that allows dervishes to connect with their inner selves and with God.


Les Arts Turks: Preserving Cultural Traditions Through Art

Les Arts Turks, a cultural center located in Istanbul, Turkey, is known for its performances of the Whirling Dervish Ceremony. The center's mission is to preserve traditional Turkish art forms by showcasing them to audiences from around the world.


Through its performances of the Whirling Dervish Ceremony, Les Arts Turks aims to promote an understanding and appreciation for Sufi culture and spirituality. By using art as a means of preserving cultural traditions, Les Arts Turks helps ensure that these important practices continue to be passed down through generations.


Poetry: Adding Spiritual Significance

During the Whirling Dervish Ceremony, poetry written by famous Sufi poets like Rumi and Hafiz is often recited. These poems serve as powerful reminders of the spiritual significance behind this ritual.

The poetry recited during the ceremony often touches on themes like love, devotion, and self-discovery. These themes resonate deeply with participants as they seek to connect with their inner selves and with God through their spinning.

The Choreography of Movement

The movements of the dervishes during the Whirling Dervish Ceremony are choreographed to match the music and poetry being performed. The intricate spins and twirls are meant to represent the journey towards spiritual enlightenment.

As they spin, the dervishes move in a circular motion with one hand raised towards heaven and the other hand pointed towards the earth. This symbolizes their connection to both God and humanity.


Using Music, Poetry, and Art to Connect with Spirituality

Through its use of music, poetry, and art, the Whirling Dervish Ceremony serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of cultural heritage and spirituality in modern society. By connecting with these traditions, participants can deepen their understanding of themselves and their place in the world.

Whether watching a performance at Les Arts Turks or participating in a ceremony themselves, those who engage with this ritual are sure to be moved by its power and significance.


Experiencing the Beauty of the Whirling Dervish Ceremony Firsthand

Unique and unforgettable, the whirling dervish ceremony is a must-see for any tourist. The ceremony was founded by Sultan Veled, son of the famous Sufi mystic and poet Rumi. Its choreography and music were created by Husameddin Chelebi, a member of the sect, in the 15th century. Today, it is recognized as both a cultural and intangible heritage by UNESCO.


One of the most striking aspects of this ceremony is the semazen or whirling dervish. These men perform a ritual dance as a form of worship to God. They wear long white robes that represent their shrouds and tall hats symbolizing their tombstones. As they spin around in circles with one arm raised towards heaven and one arm lowered towards earth, they are said to be connecting with God through their movements.

Listening to the selam or prayer recited by members of the sect during the ceremony can evoke feelings of love and devotion to God. The words are sung in Turkish but even non-Turkish speakers can appreciate its beauty. It's an hour-long performance that will leave you feeling peaceful and connected to something greater than yourself.


If you're lucky enough to witness this beautiful tradition first-hand, make sure you respect its significance by observing proper etiquette. Visitors should dress modestly, remove shoes before entering the space where it's performed, remain silent throughout the performance, and avoid taking photographs or recording videos during it.


Top Places to See the Whirling Dervishes in Istanbul and Beyond

Istanbul is a city rich in history, culture, and traditions. One of its most remarkable traditions is the whirling dervish ceremony. This mesmerizing performance is an essential part of Turkish Sufi culture and has been recognized by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. If you're planning to visit Istanbul or other parts of Turkey, witnessing a whirling dervish ceremony should be on top of your list.


Galata Mevlevihanesi - The Most Famous Place to See the Ceremony in Istanbul

The Galata Mevlevihanesi is one of the most famous places to see the whirling dervish ceremony in Istanbul. This 16th-century lodge was once home to the Mevlevi Order, which was founded by Jalaluddin Rumi, a 13th-century Persian poet and Sufi mystic. The Galata Mevlevihanesi hosts weekly ceremonies every Sunday at 5 pm, where visitors can witness this spiritual dance performed by trained dervishes dressed in traditional white robes.


The Blue Mosque - Another Place to Experience the Ceremony

Another place to experience the whirling dervish ceremony in Istanbul is at the Blue Mosque. This iconic mosque hosts select performances throughout the year during Ramadan and other religious festivals. The setting inside this magnificent mosque adds another layer of spirituality to an already enchanting experience.


Sirkeci - District with Several Venues Offering Ceremonies

If you want more options for seeing a whirling dervish ceremony in Istanbul, head over to Sirkeci district. This area has several venues that offer nightly performances showcasing different variations of this tradition. Some venues even allow visitors to participate in workshops where they can learn about Sufism and try out some basic moves themselves.


Konya - Spiritual Home of Whirling Dervishes

While Istanbul is the most popular place to see whirling dervishes, Konya is considered the spiritual home of this tradition. Located in central Turkey, Konya was once the capital of the Seljuk Sultanate and home to Rumi's mausoleum. The city hosts several ceremonies throughout the year, including the annual Mevlana Festival in December, which draws thousands of visitors from all over the world.


Other Traditions Similar to the Whirling Dervish Ceremony: Egyptian Tanoura Dance


Tanoura Dance: A Colorful and Spirited Egyptian Tradition

Tanoura dance is a captivating and vibrant tradition that has been performed in Egypt for centuries. This dance involves spinning and twirling movements, performed by dancers wearing colorful skirts. The dance is often associated with the Sufi tariqa, a mystical Islamic sect that emphasizes spiritual practices such as meditation and chanting. In this blog post section, we will explore the similarities between Tanoura dance and the Whirling Dervish ceremony.


Origins of Tanoura Dance

Like the whirling dervish ceremony, the tanoura dance is believed to have originated from the teachings of Rumi, a 13th-century Persian poet, and mystic. Rumi's philosophy emphasized love for God, self-awareness, and unity with all creation. The tanoura dance embodies these teachings through its mesmerizing movements that symbolize spiritual awakening.


Dancers in Tanoura Dance

The dancers in the tanoura dance typically spin continuously for several minutes, with some performers reaching up to 200 turns in a single performance. This requires immense physical stamina and mental focus. While the whirling dervish ceremony is primarily a male-dominated tradition, the tanoura dance is often performed by both men and women.


Symbolism of Tanoura Dance

The spinning motions of the dancers' skirts represent various aspects of spirituality such as enlightenment, unity with God, and ascension towards heaven. The colors of their skirts also hold symbolic significance; red represents life and vitality while white symbolizes purity and peace.


Similarities Between Tanoura Dance & Whirling Dervish Ceremony

Both traditions share many similarities; they are both mystical performances that aim to connect individuals with their spirituality through music, movement, and meditation. Both involve spinning movements that symbolize spiritual awakening or transcendence. Both traditions have been recognized by UNESCO as intangible cultural heritage of humanity.


Embracing the Spiritual Journey of the Whirling Dervish Ceremony


The Spiritual Journey of the Whirling Dervish Ceremony

Whirling dervish ceremony is a unique and captivating spiritual ritual that has been practiced by the Mevlevi Order of Sufi Dervishes in Turkey for centuries. The ceremony involves the whirling of the dervishes, which is a form of meditation and dhikr (remembrance of God). In this section, we will explore the spiritual journey of the whirling dervish ceremony.


The Whirling Dervish Ceremony

The whirling dervish ceremony is an awe-inspiring sight to behold. It takes place in a mosque or worship hall where people gather to witness the spinning dance performed by the dervishes. The dervishes wear long white robes and tall felt hats symbolizing their tombstones. They enter into a trance-like state while whirling around in circles with their arms outstretched, one hand pointing upwards towards heaven and the other pointing downwards towards earth.


The Spiritual Significance

The whirling represents the journey of the soul towards spiritual enlightenment and union with God. It is believed that through this dance, the dervishes can reach a state of ecstasy where they become one with God. The spinning motion serves as a metaphor for how everything in life revolves around God, and how our souls are constantly seeking to connect with Him.


Mevlevi Order

The Mevlevi Order was founded by Jalaluddin Rumi, a 13th-century poet and mystic who lived in Konya, Turkey. Rumi's teachings emphasized love, tolerance, and compassion for all beings. He believed that everyone had an innate desire to connect with God but that most people were unaware of it. His poetry reflects his deep understanding of spirituality and his quest for divine love.


Kabir Helminski

Kabir Helminski is an American Sufi teacher who has played a significant role in promoting the understanding and appreciation of the whirling dervish ceremony in the West. He has written several books on Sufism and is the co-founder of the Threshold Society, an organization dedicated to sharing Sufi teachings with people around the world.


What Happens in the Whirling Dervish Ceremony? Authentic Experience in Istanbul

The Whirling Dervish Ceremony is a traditional Sufi ritual that has its roots in Turkey. The ceremony involves the spinning of dervishes, who are members of a Sufi order, in a meditative state. This unique cultural tradition represents the journey of the soul towards enlightenment and union with God.


Spinning as a Spiritual Journey

The whirling dervish ceremony is based on the philosophy of Rumi, an influential 13th-century poet and mystic. According to Rumi’s teachings, spinning represents the journey of the soul towards enlightenment and union with God. During the ceremony, dervishes wear long white robes that symbolize death and their tomb-like hats represent their ego's burial. They spin in circles while holding one hand upward to receive God's blessings and another hand downward to give those blessings to others.


Live Music Accompaniment

The whirling dervish ceremony is accompanied by live music played by musicians sitting near the stage where dervishes perform. The ney (a type of flute) and kudum (a type of drum) are commonly used instruments during this ritual performance. The music helps create an atmosphere conducive for meditation, which enhances spiritual awareness among participants.


Experience Authenticity in Istanbul

Istanbul offers authentic whirling dervish ceremonies that allow visitors to experience this unique cultural tradition firsthand. One such place is Emav Cultural Center located in Fatih district nearby Sultanahmet Square where most historical landmarks are situated like Hagia Sophia Museum, Blue Mosque or Topkapi Palace Museum. At Emav Cultural Center visitors can watch whirling dervish performances every Wednesday at 7:30 pm for free or any other day upon reservation for a small fee.

To buy tickets for Emav Whirling Dervishes Ceremony visitors can visit their website or contact them via phone call or email reservation system. Visitors can also opt for other places like Hodjapasha Cultural Center or Galata Mevlevi House, which also offer authentic whirling dervish ceremonies in Istanbul.


Conclusion: Best Places to See the Whirling Dervishes in Istanbul and Top Recommendations

If you are planning a trip to Istanbul, seeing the whirling dervish ceremony is an experience that should not be missed. With its rich history, cultural significance, and spiritual symbolism, it is truly a unique and unforgettable event.


Some of the best places to see the whirling dervishes in Istanbul include Galata Mevlevi House Museum, Hodjapasha Cultural Center, and Sirkeci Train Station. Each of these venues offers a slightly different atmosphere and experience, but all provide an authentic look into this mystical tradition.


In addition to Istanbul, there are also other locations throughout Turkey where you can witness the whirling dervish ceremony. Konya, for example, is considered the spiritual home of the Mevlevi order and hosts an annual festival honoring Rumi that includes performances by whirling dervishes.


No matter where you choose to see the ceremony, it's important to come prepared with appropriate attire (long pants or skirts) and an open mind. Remember that this is a deeply spiritual practice for those involved and should be treated with respect.

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