An Annual Event Is a Spiritual High
Konya is Turkey’s most important center of Sufism, a mystical sect of Islam, and for nearly 700 years has been home to the Whirling Dervishes of the Mevlevi order. Their Mevlana Tekke (Mevlana Monastery) was founded by the 13th-century poet and philosopher Mevlana (master) Jalaluddin Rumi, who believed that an ecstatic, trancelike state of universal love could be induced by the practice of whirling around and around, in the manner of all things in the universe.
Each year in mid-December his followers celebrate his shebi Arus (“day of union” – the day he died) by performing the sema, the whirling dance, one of the world’s most mesmerizing spectacles. With their right palms up to the sky as if to receive God’s grace, their left palms down as if to distribute it to the earth, the dervishes whirl around the room, directed by a dance master and accompanied by an orchestra of traditional instruments, and eventually assume a whirling position around the sheik, a senior dervish who represents the sun. In whirling away their earthly ties, the dervishes effect their union with God.
Following Mustapha Kemal Ataturk’s overthrow of the Ottoman Empire in 1924, the Mevlevi order was banned as an obstacle to Turkey’s modernization. After an interruption of twenty-five years, a group of dervishes convinced the local Konya government to once again allow the performance of “the Turn” as a cultural performance. It has continued annually to this day. The Mevlana Monastery – now a museum – is visited by more than a million Turks each year.