The whirling dervishes ceremonies in Istanbul are the most popular shows for travelers to Istanbul. But what is the meaning of this mystical show? In this article, we will try to tell you everything you need to know about Sufism and whirling dervish ceremonies in Istanbul.
You will also find 2 addresses not to be missed in Istanbul to see a whirling dervish ceremonies in Istanbul as well as a list of books to read to familiarize yourself more closely with this philosophical and religious current that fascinates the whole world.
What is Sufism?
Sufism is an 800 century old mystical movement formed within Islam. It advocates union with God through devotion and love. The most famous pillars of Sufism are the teachings of the Islamic philosopher and scholar Rumi. His philosophy is essentially about peace, acceptance and the search for divine truth and love directly with God.
The Sufi community has developed religious practices focused on self-mastery that allow for both mental and mystical enlightenment but also for the loss of self, with the ultimate goal of mystical union with God.
The History of Sufism in Turkey
Although Sufism has existed since the beginning of Islamic history, it did not spread in the Turkish-speaking world until the Islamic philosopher and scholar Jalaladdin Muhammed Rumi came to Konya in the 13th century. His philosophy echoed throughout the Anatolian regions hosting coexisting religions and immigrants in flux.
After his death in 1273, Rumi’s followers founded the Mevlevi Order. The spiritual movement spread rapidly throughout the Ottoman Empire. In 1925, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the first Turkish president, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, closed all dervish orders and Mevlevi houses as part of his secularization reforms.
Until then, Mevlevi houses (mevlevihane) were Derish lodges where Sufi members learned Rumi’s philosophy and the ethics and rules of conduct of the Mevlevi order through dance, prayer and poetry.
It was not until the 1950s that the Turkish government began to allow dervishes to perform in public again. Finally, other restrictions were lifted in the 1990s.
Since the early 2000s, some Sufi communities have begun to allow dervishes.
In 2008, the Sema ceremony was declared “Masterpieces of the Oral and Cultural Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO.
Today, two of the most important Mevlevi houses that can still be visited are the Mevlevi Museum in Konya and the Galata Dervish Lodge (Galata Mevlevihanesi) in Istanbul. The Mevlana Museum is the place where Rumi is buried. You should certainly Dervishes ceremonies in Istanbul
Definition: What is a whirling dervish ?
A dervish is a Sufi, a member of the Mevlevi order. Dervishes or Sufis are the followers of the 13th century mystic and poet Jalaladdin Rumi, also known as Mevlana.
In order to perform the whirling dervish ceremony, dervishes must undergo strict spiritual and physical training that takes them on a spiritual journey.
Significance of the whirling dervish ceremonies
The whirling dervishes ceremonies in Istanbul, also known as Sema, is a transcendental performance that symbolizes the path to God.
Sufi dancers, called Semazen in Turkish, wear conical hats and white robes and skirts, which symbolize the white clothes worn by Muslims when they die.
The ceremony is very rich in mystical symbolism, which involves not only the clothes, but also the movements of the whirling dervish.
The ritual begins and ends with passages from the Koran. Sufi dancers whirl around in rhythmic patterns, following certain rules that have been practiced for hundreds of years. This ritual “dance” is accompanied by traditional Mevlevi music, called ayin.
Through their traditional practice, the dervish strives to enter into a trance in order to become one with God. The ceremony thus represents a journey of man’s spiritual ascent to “perfection” through spirit and love.
Where to see a whirling dervish ceremony in Istanbul?
It is possible to see Dervishes ceremonies in Istanbul, such as bars, restaurants and dinner cruises on the Bosphorus.
If you want to see a whirling dervish show, we basically recommend two major shows in Istanbul. Both shows are worth seeing, but have different concepts.
During the whirling dervish dance, guests are asked not to clap, talk, take pictures or use their smartphones. Also, keep in mind that these performances are not real or religious, they are fictional performances that represent what a Sufi ceremony might look like.
1. Sirkeci Station, the Orient Express
This venue is located in Sirkeci Station, near the Topkapi Palace. The whirling dervish show takes place in an underground space inside the hall that was once known as the last stop of the Orient Express.
The performance is opened with a live musical introduction of Mevlevi music and followed by a captivating Sema dance.
The historical setting, the excellent acoustics of the famous station and the special blue lighting that creates a mystical atmosphere make the venue an ideal place to experience the spiritual ceremony of the whirling dervishes. As this show is very popular, we advise you to book in advance.
Location : Sirkeci train station
Days and Schedule: every Monday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 7pm
Duration: 1 hour
Ticket price: 22 €
2. The Hodjapasha Cultural Center
Hodjapasha is a cultural center located in a 15th century Hamam near the Hagia Sophia Mosque. This place offers a slightly more touristy experience of the whirling dervish show. It lasts about an hour and begins with a brief introductory video about the Mevlevi order. The video is followed by a 10-minute concert of Sufi music and Sema dance, accompanied by live music, Persian chants and special effects. Very impressive!
In addition to the whirling dervish ceremony, there is a small exhibition featuring a variety of personal items, instruments and dervish clothing. Please note that children under the age of 7 are not allowed.
Adresse : Center culturel Hodjapasha, Hoca Paşa Mahallesi, rue Ankara, Hocapaşa Hamami Sk. 3/B, Fatih, Istanbul
Days and Schedule: every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 7pm
Duration: 1 hour
Ticket price: 26€.
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