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Ancient Konya and whirling dervishes in Turkey

The Konya province has been populated since the third millennium BC and fell at various times under the rule of the Hittites, the Phrygians, the Classical Greeks, the Persians, and the Romans. Konya is a city in central Turkey with a population of 1.2 million people. The city is located at an altitude of 1000 m in the southwestern part of the Central Anatolian Plateau. 

Konya is a popular tourist destination, especially in December, many come to the Mevlana Festival to experience the whirling dances of the dervishes. Our local private tour guides in Konya will help you to arrange your visit to this ancient city, assist you in hotel booking, in transfers and recommend you the best spots and the best location to sit and watch the incredible dervish dancing performance!

Konya was known in ancient times as Ikonion. In the Middle Ages, the city was conquered by the Seljuks, who in 1097 made it the capital of their kingdom. Konya became part of the Ottoman Empire in 1467.

The Alaüddin mosque from the 1100s has been preserved from the Seljuk period together and the Ince Minare madrasa, the entrance of which is decorated with ornamental calligraphy, the dome of the main room rests on four huge fan-shaped pendentives, and the remains of a fine brick minaret testify to the high artistic standard of the Seljuks.

From the time of the Ottomans, Mevlana Tekke, the headquarters of the mawlawi order, can be highlighted; the original Seljuk building has today been totally changed by alterations and additions. However, this does not apply to Rumi's tomb building, which belongs to the complex.

Konya carpets

The oldest known Turkish carpets were found in the Alaüddin mosque in the early 1900s, large fragments with Chinese-inspired patterns, made in the 1300s. or perhaps earlier (now they are at the Türk ve Islam Eserleri Müzesi, the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art in Istanbul).

The newer production from the city and its surroundings in the 1800s-1900s. includes prayer rugs, both kilim woven and knotted, as well as nomadic rugs with simple geometric patterns.

A dervish is a member of a Sufi brotherhood. In Persian and Turkish, and thus in European languages, a dervish is a wandering, ascetic Sufi, scantily clad and with a begging bowl at his belt.

ETYMOLOGY 

The word dervish comes from New Persian darwish 'poor, beggar'. Dervishes sought ecstasy, and many had unusual abilities: they could swallow fire or glass, endure the pain of long needles through the body, and deal with poisonous snakes.

Turkish "dancing dervishes", mawlawis, are very well known. However, Islamic theologians and governments disapproved of these aspects of Sufism, and today they are almost extinct.

Who was Rumi?

The Persian poet Rumi is popular in the West today. Madonna, Demi Moore, and other celebrities have paid musical tribute to him in the company of new age guru Deepak Chopra, and on Facebook, the poet has fans from all over the world.

Jalāl al-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī (died 1273) is one of the best known Sufi poets.

The poet Jalāl al-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī, who lived from 1207-1273, is today one of the most-read poets in the United States. At home, Rumi also has many fans who read his poetry as pure love poetry, while true followers see his words as doors to a spiritual world, a path to succession.

On YouTube, you will find several homemade videos in which Rumi's poems are recited in a mesmerizing voice accompanied by an otherworldly light, hearts, roses, babbling brooks, and so on. Rumi's poetry is about love and is immediately accessible, even though it contains several layers, and therefore easily tempts you into a romance. The pop icon Madonna is also videoed by reading the 800-year-old poet. 

According to tradition, the story behind the poet is also a love encounter. But in the starting point, Rumi writes himself into a tradition of Sufis (followers of the Islamic mystical Sufism, ed.), who used poetry as a spiritual tool to describe experiences with the divine. Rumi is just one of the most valued. Inner worship of God rather than rule religiosity Jalāl al-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī lived in the then-Persian Empire. He was born in what we now call Afghanistan, but fled with his family from Genghis Khan's armies to Asia Minor in Konya in present-day Turkey. Here the Mawlawiya Sufi order was founded, which today still attracts Rumi followers from all over the world who come to meditate and see the dervish characteristic whirling dance said to originate from Rumi himself.

What is Sufism?

Rumi had grown up with Sufism, a philosophy that emerged from Islamic tradition and stories about the Prophet Muhammad's early religious experiences. It emphasized inner worship of God, rather than conformist religiosity, which is why Sufis were sometimes seen as deviants and heretics, and still are in some Muslim circles. Sufi temples have therefore been repeatedly subjected to terrorist attacks by religious opponents.

The word Sufi can mean wool, which refers to the traditional dress of the Sufis, but can also come from the word Sophia, knowledge/wisdom. It is Gnostic wisdom, the seeker follows a spiritual path, tariqa, and through guidance and practice he is gradually enlightened. The goal is to achieve unity with God in an ecstatic state, where differences are abolished and God/Being can be sensed in everything as an intense feeling of life or love intoxication. The love meeting Decisive for Rumi's life path was the meeting with a wandering Sufi, Shams ud-Din Tabrizi. Their friendship is described by Rumi as an intoxicating spiritual love and learning relationship.

 

When Shams disappears after a few years, it gives rise to a strong longing for the friend in Rumi, which leads to a rich poetic production of ghazals, i.e. love poetry,  which is typically about the lover's longing for and union with the beloved, which at the same time, according to the Sufi tradition, becomes an image of man's longing for and experience of divine love.

Wine appears again in the poem as a symbol that can, for example, be compared to the meaning of wine in the Song of Songs in the Bible. Love is a divine intoxicant that awakens man and sharpens the senses, which man needs in the encounter with non-anesthetizing stimulants:

Tonight when the wine is poured 

and the instruments play 

there is one thing that is forbidden 

one thing: sleep.

Sufi music from Turkey: dancing dervishes

Everything in the world rotates. Everything from the cells in our body to the planets in the universe spin, and we unite with this rotation. So say the dervishes of Turkey, and so they whirl round and round like everything else in the universe until they attain an ecstatic trance-like state of universal love.

The dancing dervishes belong to the Sufi Mawlawiyah order, and as in Pakistan, India, Morocco, and other places in the world where Sufi music lives, the goal of the dervishes in Turkey is contact with the divine. One of the great poets of Sufism, Rumi, came from Konya in Turkey, and it was he who, while walking in a bazaar, was so captivated by the monotonous hammering of a blacksmith that he began to spin. In the whirling movements, he experienced ecstasy and union with God.

The dervish's thousand-year-old ritual, the whirling dance, consists of four phases: An introduction, which must make the dervish concentrate on achieving contact with God. In the second phase, the dervish must be with God, and in the ecstatic phase itself, the dervish is in God. That is, the divine union has taken place, which was the goal, and the ceremony ends with the fourth and final stage, where one comes back from God.

During the entire ritual, a Sufi teacher recites a prayer. At the same time, a bamboo flute, ney, plays its mournful sounds, which are gradually accompanied by hand drums and various stringed instruments. After a good hour of prayer, the dance begins – at first infinitely slowly, later the dancers' whirl round and round like spinning tops, still accompanied by the prayer and the music.

 

In the 1920s, the dervish dance was banned in Turkey, as it was considered a threat to the country's modernization. After an interruption of 25 years, the dance was reopened, but today it is more of a tourist attraction than an actual practice.

However, modern musicians find inspiration in traditional music and dance. This applies, for example, to the Turkish-born techno musician Mercan Dede, who incorporates dervish dance into his electronic music when playing on international club stages.

Mevlana Festival

The Mevlana Festival is an annual event in the city of Konya from 10 to 17 December. The holiday is dedicated to Jalāl al-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī (1207-1273). Mevlana is the nickname of the great author of philosophical verses and thinkers, which means "our master" in translation. He gained fame as the forefather of unorthodox Islam and the order of whirling dervishes. The followers of the order claim that it is possible to create contact with God with the help of a dance called Sama.

At the final ceremony of the festival, the most curious spectacle awaits guests and tourists, when the dervishes begin to tirelessly spin against the clock, while they rotate both around their own axis and around the circumference of the stage.

The Mevlana festival is a grandiose show of religious dance, which attracts a large number of pilgrims and tourists from all over the globe. The dance lasts three hours and is remembered as a bright, mesmerizing spectacle. On the eve of the performance, each dervish asks for blessings from his mentor sheik.

Dervishes do not rotate for the sake of the audience, but in order to enter into ecstasy and, with the help of this mental state, feel closer to the Creator. This whirling can be described as dynamic meditation. Dervishes whirl to the music of drums and flutes.

 

Mevlana Museum (Mevlana Müzesi) 

This is the museum of the Persian Sufi poet Jalāl al-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī in the city of Konya in Turkey. After the death of Jalāl al-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī, who received the nickname Mevlana, which means “Our Lord” in Farsi. Rumi himself was buried next to his father in the rose garden of Sultan Ala ad-Din Kay-Kubad I in Konya. His successor erected a mausoleum at the burial site of Rumi.

Mevlana Museum or Rumi Temple in Konya, Anatolia, Turkey Mausoleum of Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, Persian Sufi mystic, also known as Mevlana or Rumi

The Georgian Crown Princess Khatun, together with her husband Emir, financed the construction of the mausoleum. A special element of the Mausoleum is the dome, covered with turquoise tiles. In 1927, the Turkish Majlis approved a decree establishing a museum on the basis of a complex of buildings around the tomb of Jalāl al-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī and the abode of Sufi dervishes. The opening of the museum took place only in 1954, since then it has been called the Mevlana Museum, the dervish festival of the same name in Konya bears the same name.

The main feature of the complex and, at the same time, an important goal of the pilgrimage is the tomb of Mevlana itself, the sarcophagus of which is located exactly under the Turquoise Dome. It is an exceptional exhibit of the work of Seljuk wood carvers of the 13th century; it is covered with expensive embroidered brocade, on which sayings from the Koran are embroidered with golden threads.

The epitaph on Rumi’s tomb says: "When we are dead, seek not our tomb on the earth, but find it in the hearts of men.”

Next to the burial place of Rumi are the sarcophagi of 3 dervishes who traveled with Mevlana and his family to Konya, as well as the children and wife of Mevlana, his father, and the most prominent members of the dervish order. The majestic Semahane ritual hall was built during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent. Dervishes perform their ritual dance in this hall.

In the museum, during a private tour with a local tour guide, you have the opportunity to leaf through ancient manuscripts, examine the musical instruments of the dervishes, their devices for prayer, things from the private collection of Mevlana, learn interesting information about the Sufi culture, the educational process and the training of young dervishes. An important exhibit of the museum is a mother-of-pearl box in which part of the beard of the Prophet Muhammad is preserved.

Additional information 

  • The total area of the museum is 20,000 m²
  • About 2,000,000 tourists visit the museum annually. According to this criterion, the Mevlana Museum takes the 2nd place among all the museums in Turkey (the first, respectively, holds the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul throughout history)
  • The entrance ticket to the museum is 3.5 Turkish lira. For children under 14 years old, admission is free.
  • The Mevlana Museum is depicted on the 5000 lira banknote issued in 1980

The balcony on a minaret where the call to prayer would be made from (now by loudspeaker). In Turkish the name for such a structure is şerefe, the structure of the ones at this mosque, with pillars, is unique.

Dervish whirling dance 

Sufi whirling (or Sufi turning) is a format of physically dynamic introspection. It is a daily meditation routine executed within the sema, or worshiping tradition, through which dervishes (also called semazens) desire to correspond to the birth of all ideals or dharma. This is pursued through quitting one's ego or individual wishes by attending to the melody, concentrating on God, and rotating one's body in redundant rings, which has been seen as a metaphorical representation of worlds in the Solar System circumnavigating the sun. This has also evolved into a concert dance by non-Sufis, including dancers beyond the Islamic world.

Dervish communities, in the Middle Ages, performed a major role in social, spiritual, and political life in "central Islamic lands". Dervish communities were so huge at one moment in history that authorities tried to take control over most of the Dervish monasteries around the world. In 1926, Turkey demanded the nullification of all Sufi fraternities by law, and the Mevlevi survived in remote villages in the Middle East. In 1955, the Turkish administration blessed the Mevlevi order with exceptional approval to commit ritual whirling practices only for travelers for two weeks a year.  Outside of the travel business, Orthodox theologians have now vocally dismissed the Dervish practice resulting in faqirs or wandering, mendicant dervishes throughout central Islamic regions. Despite severe state control over Dervish methods, the Mevleviyah order still exists in Turkey.

While only males have historically been allowed to take part in the ritual, some neighborhoods now permit women to experience it, too. An illustrative element of whirling is constant spinning (counterclockwise or clockwise) around an extreme central axis while sidestepping vertigo. In unskilled dancers, this permanent rotation generates motion-induced vertigo or even dizziness. Exercise for spinning targets the inner ear, which is liable for balance processes in humans. To negate this symptom, whirling dance performers rehearse different balancing and mental techniques.

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