By Bob P
One of the most odd and awe-inspiring spectacles I have attended was in Cappadocia this week with whirling dervishes.
Sitting in a candlelit monastic environment, the event began with a prayer, then music, then a wise man recanting some poems. Then the whirling began and I was in second heaven.
The Whirling Dervishes trace their origin to the 13th century Ottoman Empire. The Dervishes, also known as the Mevlevi Order, are Sufis, a spiritual offshoot of Islam. On December 17, Whirling Dervishes across the world celebrate the birth of Jelaluddin Mevlana Rumî, a mystic poet.
The Order was outlawed in Turkey at the dawn of the secular revolution. The dervish lodge was converted to a museum in Konya by Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic and its first President. In the 1950s, the Turkish government legalized the Order as an association and began allowing the Whirling Dervishes, who are chosen among the members of this authentic Mevlevi sect, to perform.
The order is still active in Turkey, currently led by the 20th great-grandson (22nd generation descendant) of Rumî, Faruk Hemdem Çelebi.
Donned in white blouses and broad skirts and reminiscent of chic 1950s America – absent any poodles, but replete with black sashes and light-brown cone-shaped hats – the (male) dancers whirl and twirl to the tune of mystic music (citars and flutes). I don’t know how they do it without falling down – I’m told they focus on a point high up and forget where they are.
Apparently, the chanting Sheikh represents the sun and the Dervishes represent the planets turning around him in the solar system. The long, white skirts represent the shroud. The Dervishes extend their arms, right palm facing up and left palm facing down. Energy from above supposedly enters through the right palm, passes through the body and then transits through the left palm and into the Earth.
I was in such awe that I joined in a chant of “Allahu Akhbar” with them at the end of the ceremony and left thinking I might want to reincarnate as a whirling dervish in a future life…