Have you ever spun around in circles until you were dizzy and then felt a woozy rush of colours permeate your vision just before being overcome by nausea? Most likely you were just chatting with God.
Or so think the Mevlevi Order, better known as the Whirling Dervishes*.
This famous Sufi Order became well-established during the Ottoman Empire, its origins tracing back to Konya, presently modern-day Turkey. The Dervishes were founded by the followers of Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi-Rumi (thanks mom!), a 13th century Persian poet and theologian, better known to the Western world simply as Rumi.
Yes, that Rumi.
What you might not know, is that it is Rumi who is credited with the unique dhikr (an Islamic devotional act) ceremony known as a Sema, that the Dervishes are famous for.
Recognizable for their flowing white robes, the Dervishes believe in performing the dhikr in the form of a ‘dance’ and musical ceremony. Hence the whirling.
And why whirling you might ask?
So, the story goes that Rumi was walking through the town marketplace one day when he heard the rhythmic hammering of the gold beaters. Apparently Rumi heard the dhikr “la elaha ella’llah” (there is none worthy of worship but Allah) spoken by the apprentices beating the gold. This got him so excited that he couldn’t help but stretch out his arms and start spinning in a circle. Obviously.
And so the Whirling Dervishes were born.
In 1925 the Mevlevi Order was outlawed in Turkey by Atatürk’s new Turkish Republic. However thanks to capitalism, in 1954 the Mevlevi were given partial rights to perform the sema in public due to the potential tourist revenue. Since then the Dervishes have been on world tours playing to exalted audiences such as the Pope.
Considering that this is a devotional act intended to transmit the dancer into a higher state of consciousness that is closer to God, I was suspicious of the public performances… and their hefty prices. Hence we opted for the ‘economic’ free show while enjoying a local nargile (water-pipe).
I heart travelling.
*Sacrificing all cross-cultural sensitivity and religious tolerance for the sake of a one-liner…