Monday, 25 November 2013

Konya and Whirling Dervishes

Konya, the cradle of Sufism, sits within the mighty plains of the ancient region of Anatolia. In biblical times it was known as Iconium, one of the greatest Christian communities of its time. It was here that the Apostle Paul and St.Barnabas headed in AD 46 - 48 when they were driven out of Antioch.
Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi 1207-1273
Mevlana, born in Persia was a poet, jurist, theologian and Sufi mystic. As a young man he travelled to Konya and met the Dervish religious leader, Shams-e Tabrizi. A strong friendship and spiritual understanding linked the two men, and under Shams influence Mevlana became an ascetic. Mysteriously Shams disappeared, leaving Mevlana inconsolable. He expressed his emotions through writing poetry, one of which, 'spiritual couplets' is considered by many to be one of the greatest works of mystical poetry. He also began performing the whirling sema dance.
If you are like me, and do not understand the sema dance, perhaps my explanation, learnt as a result of my visit, will help to clarify it. Like most people I was aware that it was a meditative state with a religious significance.
Mevlana's seven principles
1. In generosity and helping others, be like a river.
2. In compassion and grace, be like the sun.
3. In concealing others faults, be like the night.
4. In anger and fury, be like the dead.
5. In modesty and humility, be like the earth.
6. In tolerance, be like the sea.
7. Either exist as you are, or be as you look.
The beautiful cylindrical drum of the Green Mausoleum, Konya.
Beneath these domes lies the 13th century sanctuary of the Dervishes. It houses the tombs of Mevlana, his family and his disciples. 
via 
Mevlana's tomb 
The above two pictures do offer, in part, an explanation surrounding the sema dance.
Contrary to Islamic orthodoxy, poetry, music, and dance are central to the faith of the Dervishes. Serenely reconciled with the notion of death, the Dervishes cast aside a black cape symbolising the tomb to dance in a long white tunic (the shroud) and wear a camel hair turban representing the tomb's headstone (as photos above). The music is celestial and the dancers spin round and round like heavenly spheres. As they dance the right arm and hand is gradually turned upwards to receive God's grace and the left arm and hand turned down to pass it on immediately to mankind. Musicians chant mystic hymns as the dancers whirl into a trance for almost an hour. There are seven parts to the sema each symbolising a stage on the mystic journey to perfection, called ascension.
Removing the black cape symbolising the tomb and revealing the white gown symbolising the shroud.
We were not allowed to take photos during the sema and in fact it would have been totally inappropriate to do so. However, five minutes after they had finished the seven stages of the ceremony and had left the room, they kindly returned and whirled for us so that we could photograph them.
The dance creates a very moving, mystical, and unforgettable experience for the viewer, which we felt was a great privilege to witness.
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When I returned home from Kent, it was so lovely to read all of your very kind comments on the previous post - thank you very much.

50 comments:

  1. How very interesting, Rosemary. I didn't know any of this and I am very impressed by the tenets of the religion, too. Thanks for this post.

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    1. Dear Jenny - Prior to our visit I knew very little about Sufism and like you I was impressed by what I learnt about their beliefs.

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  2. Really interesting reading, you explain so pretty well Rosemary and with your wonderful photos it becomes exciting!Thank you for sharing, I'm really impressed by your thirst for learning and with how much interest you transmit all this knowledge to us.
    Have a happy new week!

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    1. Dear Olympia - I think that you have summed me up very well. As I get older I have this almost insatiable thirst to find out more about and understand the world we live in.

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  3. Dear Rosemary,
    these are very interesting informations and photos, thank you! The dancing dervishes make me remember a little book 'The Five Tibeter', which tried to bring a similar experience to Europeans.
    I love Rumi's poems and wise words very much, and find Sufism quite fascinating. The 7 rules sound good (though I have difficulties to understand no. 7) Britta

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    1. Dear Brigitta - I was unaware of the little book that you mentioned, and will have a looked at it on Google.
      The seven rules have a poetic but underlying truth to them, but rule No. 7, I agree, is difficult to understand.

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  4. Lovely post with some stunning pictures Rosemary. Thanks for giving us so many interesting facts too.
    Patricia x

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    1. It was a new and special experience for us Patricia - glad that you found it interesting.

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  5. I had heard of the Whirling Dervishes, but had no idea of the history or meaning behind it. Fascinating post Rosemary.

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    1. It was something that I knew very little about Jessica but I found the history of it and being in the place where it all began so interesting.

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  6. Dear Rosemary, I had thought the Whirling Dervishes were something from long ago and had no idea this was a religion practiced in contemporary life. What a wonderful experience for you to see this mystical dancing, and to be able to photograph the dancers afterwards. The green tower is incredibly beautiful, as is the whole complex. Thank you for educating me and sharing it with us.

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    1. Dear Patricia - it does feel as if whirling Dervishes should belong to another era completely, but as I discovered it is a thriving community.
      The green tower is very beautiful especially against the wonderful blue sky.

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  7. A real interesting story and photos of Konya and the Whirling Dervishes. I did not know anything about this, it must have been a great experience for you.

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    1. Dear Janneke - they do say travel broadens the mind, and during our trip to Turkey we had so many experiences which were completely new to us.

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  8. Have seen these dancers on youtube before but had no idea about them until you explained and showed your photos.

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    1. Once you understand the symbolism surrounding the sema dance, it helps you to appreciate what you are watching.

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  9. Dear Rosemary, Again a most fantastic post and fabulous photographs. You bring to us the complete story. You seek out the most valuable information. And you tell it so well in words and pictures.
    There is something extra special about your last photograph. It must be the setting sun.

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    1. Dear Gina - you are always so very kind with your comments - thank you.
      It was a very memorable occasion for us to attend the sema dance, and finding out more about the background to the Dervishes helped to reinforce this for us.

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  10. Dear Rosemary,

    I had the opportunity to see whirling Dervishes here in Tampa Bay, and was mezmerized. The dance was explained just as you have explained it, and we were cautioned that it was inappropriate to applaud, as the dance is considered a religious rite. A while back I was gifted with Sufi poems, and they are as beautiful as they are deep. Thanks for a great posting!

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    1. Dear Mark - you were fortunate to see the whirling Dervishes in Tampa.
      H had previously seen the dance in Egypt but it was more of a floor show. It was performed by one man and did not follow the 7 stages on the mystic journey to perfection.
      I am intending to buy a book of Sufi poems as I think that my eldest son, would enjoy reading them.

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  11. Wonderful explanation of something most of us have heard about but never seen or really been made aware of. Funny how we use quotes almost daily (such as "she's always racing about like a Whirling Dervish") without knowing how/where they actually originated.

    Rumi's poetry and quotes I am somewhat familiar with, but had no idea he was part of the Dervish history. His epitaph has always resonated with me - "When we are dead, seek not our tomb in the earth, but find it in the hearts of men."

    Thanks for telling us the interesting history and sharing these really great pics Rosemary. Nice how they returned after the dance to allow photography........it made your visit complete I'm sure.

    Hugs - Mary

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    1. Dear Mary - how right you are with the whirling Dervish quote - we say these things without even thinking about the significance of them.
      Yes, I am sure that you can imagine how pleased I was that they kindly returned and whirled for our cameras.
      Glad you found the history and the photos interesting to see, and thank you for your interesting comment.

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  12. As always your post is so interesting and for us full of knowledge ! I have read about at past ,is a part of Muslim religion . It was kindly that they allowed to you to take photos ! Lovely post !

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    1. Thank you Olympia - I am pleased that you found the post interesting.

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  13. I have seen that dance a few weeks ago on the television.
    I was verry good looking, it is a verry beautiful dance, the white dress....it seems like water.
    Verry nice!

    Greetings,
    Inge, my choice

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    1. The white shrouds seem to have some weights in the very bottom of them which allows it to ripple as they whirl, and as you mention like water.

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  14. Wow, that must have been something very special to observe and be part of, like entering a whole different world. I had never heard of it.
    Marian

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    1. Dear Marion - seeing the whirling Dervishes has left us with special memories and is something that we will never forget.

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  15. Beautiful! That was very kind of them to return, dance and allow a few photos. Such movement, rhythm and symbolism. And Mevlana's seven principals - we should all adopt them.

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    1. Our trip to Turkey revealed so many new and interesting discoveries for us. Watching the Dervishes was hypnotic and the time seem to go by in a flash. As you mention, it was very considerate of them to return and allow us to photograph them, and yes, I like Mevlana's 7 principles too.

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  16. I found this fascinating, Rosemary. I only knew a little about the Dervishes and Sufism, but now I've discovered so much more - thank you. I imagine it was quite amazing seeing their dance and that incredible artwork and architecture.

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    1. I am so pleased that you found the post fascinating Wendy - it was an unforgettable experience and as I discovered more about their history, and the background to the sema dance, the places that we visited took on more significance.

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  17. Hi Rosemary, the seven principles provoke thought. The images are beautiful as usual. I have been away form blogging off and on but hopefully I am back. Olive

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    1. I have been absent travelling Olive - hope all is well with you and Joe.
      Apart from being very poetic, Mevlana's principles have a soundness to them.

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  18. As a child I thought Whirling Dervishes might be terrifying and dangerous - at long last I know they are not!

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    1. Dear Nilly - I am glad that this post has finally put your childhood thoughts to bed.

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  19. I think the seven principles of Mevlana could be applied perfectly today or maybe more correctly..should be ... such an interesting post again Rosemary . Have a nice day.

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    1. I like Mevlana's 7 principles too - apart from being very poetic there is an underlying soundness to them as well. I am pleased that you found the post interesting.

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  20. Whirling dervishes are amazing to watch.

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  21. Thank you for featuring Konya. I love the town and the last time I was there, I actually thought of retiring in that town, although I am not a Muslim ! I respect Sufism deeply and I find the place pervaded with its mysticism. I am in two minds about whirling dervishes though. It bothered me to see them perform in public ...

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    1. Thank you for your insight, and how interesting that you actually considered retiring in Konya. I understand what you are saying about seeing whirling Dervishes performing for the public - it is something that is a private and mystical journey.

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  22. It must have been so wonderful to see the dance thank you so much for explaining it all so simply.
    Sarah x

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    1. It was a memorable occasion Sarah, and one we will not forget.

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  23. Hello Rosemary, That is the remarkable thing about getting out in the world. What was formerly a mere expression suddenly becomes a reality with an underlying significance.

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    1. Dear Jim - the expression 'travel broadens ones horizons' is true.

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  24. Gorgeous and very exotic-looking photos, Rosemary and such an interesting description of a much misunderstood practice. You certainly packed a great deal into your Turkish holiday.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed the photos and the post Perpetua - we still haven't reached our destination of Cappadocia at this stage, so more to come.

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  25. Wonderful photographs Rosemary and very interesting to learn so much about the Dervishes. I wonder, if when they stop the dance, they are able to walk without help.

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    1. Dear Betty - although the Dervishes whirled for about an hour they suffered no signs of vertigo at all. If I spin round for a few seconds I can hardly walk straight. I do not know what their secret is. I think that 32 spins is the highest that any ballerina has ever done.

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