Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Whirling Dervishes

Hello everyone! I hope you’re as ready for the trip as I am!

As someone intrigued by dance and dramatic performance, my interest was piqued when I saw the Whirling Dervishes on the calendar. After reading more about the origin and in meanings behind the ritual, I am even more interested.

The Whirling Dervishes is part of a belief system called Sufism, the pathway followed by Sufis, believers in the mystic sector of Islam. This group of Muslims participates in rituals to symbolically cleanse the spirit and become closer to God, resulting in a believer that lives not for worldly pleasures, but to satisfy the will of God. According to The Whirling Dervishes of Rumi, the many definitions of this belief system can be consolidated to mean this: “Sufism is the path followed by an individual who is seeking to free himself or herself from human vices and weaknesses in order to acquire angelic qualities and conduct pleasing to God.” In addition, the Sufi who completes this process becomes one with himself and his God in a way that is life-changing and purifying.

This process seems to be incredibly eye opening and spiritual. The Whirling Dervishes is only one branch of Sufism, but it is truly the physical manifestation of the Sufi way of life – loving and servicing others, rejecting one’s ego, striving to be one with Allah, the Truth. The Mevlevi Ritual Dance, or Semi has multiple stages, each of which has a different meaning:

1.     Naat-i Sherif: a eulogy giving praise to Allah
2.     Taksim: an expression of the divine breath of life, through an improvised flute performance
3.     Devr-i Veled: a procession that included the whirling dervishes that represents three phases of knowledge: (a) ilm-al yaqin, the knowledge received from study or other people, (b) ayn-al yaqin, knowledge through observation, (c) haqq-al yaqin, knowledge received from actual experiences.
4.     Sema: the dance itself, which includes four movements, called selams: (1) human birth to truth, (2) the human witnessing the omnipotence of God, (3) the expression of total submission to God, (4) the renewed and pure spirit of the whirling dervish, now a servant of God.

At the end of this process, a scripture is read and the dervishes disperse for a time of solitude and reflection on God. I would imagine that witnesses of this deeply religious performance would experience feelings of spiritual awakening and reflection. When I was a bit younger, I participated in the liturgical dance ministry at my church and I remember that as a very moving experience. My memories of those performances fuel my interest in the Whirling Dervishes. Hopefully the experience will be as spiritual and intriguing for all of us as I anticipate them to be.


  1. Thanks for the break-down of the ritual. That should be helpful as we go to the performance.

  2. Excellent information in your post, Danielle. Thanks for sharing this. I'm particularly interested in the Dervishes too, after reading some about them in a novel recently.