Whirling Dirvishes

Sadly we had to depart Antalya, another place to return to sometime (note:  they have the largest and busiest airport in the south so an easy place to swoop into for a few days or a week).

Heading inland today, our destination was Cappadocia, but we had a planned stop about halfway in Konya.  We drove through stunning pine-covered mountain scenery, and then up above the alpine into some snow over an 1,800 metre peak.  A local specialty was pine-flavoured honey.



In the 12th and 13th Centuries, Konya was the capital of the Selcuk Empire of Rum, but the city is best known for the founding of the order of Whirling Dervishes by Mevlani Rumi, one of the great poets and mystics of the Islamic world. We visited the 13th Century Mevlana Mosque and complex, now a museum.  The complex is also used to teach Rumi’s philosophy to students who come from all over the world.

There were several rooms showing historical artifacts, beautiful calligraphy, highlighting some of the leaders and depicting the day-to-day life of the followers. 

The highlight, though, was the stunning interior of the Mosque.

The Mosque was crowded with tourists and pilgrims.  Rumi’s tomb was in the Mosque but in another room there was a silver box inside a display case containing a lock of Rumi’s hair at which many devout were praying and several men and women were moved to tears.  It seemed like a place people had come from far corners of the vast country to pay their respects, perhaps once in a lifetime.   We tried to be very respectful and I didn’t take a photograph.

This religion is at the heart of all Turkish religion.  Rumi’s interpretation of the Q’oran was based on 4 books by one mystic.  Murat broke the philosophy down to its simplest form:   

1) monotheism – belief in God – Allah – one god; and

2) everything in life is evolving even if we don’t feel it – the Earth, the galaxy, the blood circulating in the body.  

Rumi was a Muslim believer, but his primary focus was on tolerance and forming a worldwide brotherhood.  Anyone could become a suphi if they understood and there are Christians, Catholics and people of other religions who are believers.   Many devout followers give up speech in order to avoid insulting or criticising anyone.  If someone enters the practice but isn’t suitable, rather than asking them to leave, they turn the person’s shoes, left on the porch facing inward, outward.

“The Seven Advice of Mevlana

1. In generosity and helping others be like a river
2.  In compassion and grace be like sun
3.  In concealing each other’s faults be like night
4.  In anger and fury be like dead
5.  In modesty and humility be like earth
6.  In tolerance be like a sea
7.  Either exist as you are or be as you look.”

The not talking was a practice of self-control and it led to a practice of music and singing and this is how the Whirling Dirvishes began.  The dance is a religious ceremony full of symbolism.  The whirling person forms an axis representing the number 1, for one god.  The spinning represents the revolving flow of life.  The white costume represents purity, meaning everything that comes to God returns to God.

This centre is where Rumi lived.   When he died there on December 17, 1273, he wanted it to be a celebration, his return to God, so instead of a funeral, he asked that there be a wedding ceremony.  People came from all over the world including from Western countries.

Every December there is a Whirling Dirvish festival here with believers coming from around the world. 

We drove on and Murat announced that if we were to arrive in time, he had arranged for us to attend a Whirling Dirvish religious ceremony.  Our driver, Sunni, ensured we made it by 6:00 pm to the small building where the ceremony was held.   A woman announced that there must be silence, no applause, and no photography because it was a religious ceremony, but there would be time for photographs later.  Three men in tall fez-style felted hats (which must be very hot to wear), and cream coloured robes entered.  They were musicians playing a balalaika-type of instrument, a set of two drums played with the hands, and a long flute or recorder.  They played several Eastern-sounding pieces.


Four men entered, one appearing to be a priest.  The other three wore wide white robes over white pants and the same tall felted hats.  They all took care to tuck their hair under their hats.  There were a series of bows and kneeling, and then the priest moved to the centre of the stage.  One of the musicians stood up and began to chant with an unusual vibrato pattern which was very controlled.   The three Dirvishes started to whirl, slowly at first and moving faster and faster as the music picked up the tempo, faster and faster.  They twirled for at least 20 minutes, stopping briefly every five minutes or so.  They didn’t focus their eyes on one point and rotate the head quickly to that point the way ballerinas do.  They reached the right foot around as far as they could and the body and left foot followed.  One closed his eyes and one was wide-eyed.  The priest moved between them a bit, ensuring they didn’t stray off the stage.  There was no evidence of dizziness when they stopped.  The priest chanted, there was more bowing and kneeling and the ceremony was over after about 45 minutes.   It was fascinating to watch and we were so grateful to see the actual ceremony instead of a touristic showy (phony) musical performance.  True to their word, the dirvishes whirled again for photographs.

We drove on for a short time and a very different landscape revealed itself to us.   The air was dry and the landscape parched.  We appeared to be in a very broad canyon filled with hoodoos of every size and shape, including mushroom tops.  We passed through a small town in which there were clearly people making their homes inside the so-called “fairie chimneys” and homes, hotels, and shops filled caves which occupied the canyon sides.   

In about 10 minutes, we pulled into to an even smaller village.  By now dusk had settled in.  We pulled up to the most charming hotel on the trip.  We stepped inside the stone wall to a courtyard filled with roses.   There were tables and chairs in the shade inviting us to a chilled glass of white wine.


Our rooms were unique.  I climbed to mine onto the roof and down a hallway.  Inside, the cool stone walls set off antique furniture and Turkish rugs.  The bathroom was filled with stone cold marble, welcome in the jet hot surroundings outside.  Some rooms were carved into the canyon.

The staff were equally charming.


Dinner was a special treat.  Tender cubes of beef had been cooked for hours in clay pots sealed with wax.  They pots were brought to a separate table flambois.  The server used a giant machete to lob the top of the pot into the flames and fire jumped.   Of course the contents were delicious as was the rest of the meal.

Tomorrow we would explore the caves and chimneys in this foreign landscape.   But first, we would rise at 4:00 am and take to the air.



3 thoughts on “Whirling Dirvishes

  1. So much fascinating history to absorb.Such well documented experiences to refresh your memories for years to come.You have enriched many lives with your blogs for which I am truly appreciative.XO Joyce

  2. Fascinating, I’d always wondered about Rumi’s home and the dervishes were so special to read about as well as the pictures. But your explanation of the life and beliefs of these interesting people, the beauty of this sect of Islam was the best. Thanks for being such a great scribe. You take us on your adventures as if we were also there.

  3. Thank you for the blog Jan. I have just caught up – fascinating. I want to go to the baths and the hotel you described above! MUST go sometime …. it’s now on my list!

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