Whirling Dervishes Istanbul Turkey

Dervishes Bowing
Dervishes Bowing

Was it a dance performance, a spiritual ceremony, or both – not sure what to think about the Whirling Dervishes performance last night? It was mildly hypnotic but not what I expected.

Whirling Dervishes

The proper name for a Whirling Dervishes performance is – Mevlevi Sema Ceremony. Founded in 1273, the Mevleviye are a Sufi order that spread throughout the Ottoman Empire. The group began in Central Anatolia in a town called Konya. “Mevleviye are known for their famous practice of whirling dances. Mevleviye live in Turkish communities. The most active and famous places for their activity are Konya and Istanbul.”

Mevlana – a 13th century Muslim saint and Anatolian mystic – became one of the greatest philosophers of all time. He laid the foundation for modern existentialism. “Divine love is the sole aim of spiritual life. Everything in the universe is spinning and the dervishes seek true love of the divine by spinning themselves. Whirling to the enchanting sound of the ney, a type of reed flute, they attain the consciousness of God.”

Yayli Tambur
Yayli Tambur

The performance was at the Hodjapasha Dance Center, a restored 550 year old Turkish bath. In addition to the Whirling Dervishes Ceremony the center presents a dance show called Turkish Dance Night. Accompanied by live music the Hamam Dance Troupe performs dances from regions of Anatolia.


I don’t have a very deep understanding of Sufism and after the performance last night need to do some research. Surely everything in the room was symbolic. Five Dervishes interacted among themselves and danced for about 30 minutes. Before they entered the room two sets of singers and musicians sang and played music on exotic looking traditional instruments.


“A musical repertoire called “ayin” is played during the ceremony, or Sema. The repertoire has four vocal and instrumental sections, using contrasting rhythmic cycles performed by a singer, a flute-player, a kettledrummer, and a cymbal player. The oldest musical compositions stem from the mid-sixteenth century combining Persian and Turkish traditions.”

Belly Dancers

Whirlers fast for several hours before their performance. They rotate on their left feet in short twists, using the right foot to drive their bodies around the left foot.


“The body of the whirler is supple. Eyes are open but unfocused, so images are blurred and flowing. The Sema takes place in a circular-shaped room that is part of a mevlevihane building.”

Whirling Dervishe

If you haven’t seen a Mevlevi Sema Ceremony – it’s fascinating and worth the time. Seeing the performance in exotic Istanbul was a treat!

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