On December 17, Konya pays homage to Celaleddin Rumi (known as "Melvana"), the founder of the religious brotherhood of whirling dervishes, whose 800th anniversary this year is. The two weeks preceding this commemoration, many ceremonies of this religious dance take place daily at the mausoleum of Mevlana. Pilgrims and curious crowd in this holy city of Anatolia during a festival where religion becomes spectacle. Enchantment guaranteed.
But why are they spinning? To get in touch with Allah. The whirling dervishes are indeed not a folk group. They are Muslim clerics, belonging to the Sufi order of mevlevi, founded in the XNUMXth century by the mystical poet Dlaläl al-Dïn al-Rümi (or Celaleddin Rumi), nicknamed Mevlana ("the master"). Commonly called dervishes (from Persian darwich, which means "poor"), they live as ascetics in convents, the tekke, which can be found in Istanbul and Konya.
Mevlana (1207-1273) was the first to shoot. A man of religion and an appreciated poet, he professed a mysticism centered on love and tolerance without distinction of religion and culture. His influence was very great throughout Anatolia and even in Syria. According to legend, the mystical poet would one day pass a bazaar where gold was being beaten. Seized with a violent emotion, carried away by the rhythm and the crystalline sound of the beaten gold, Mevlana would have started to turn in a movement of elevation. It was through this dance, the sema, that he entered into communion with the divine.
For seven centuries, the disciples of Mevlana have entered into communion with the Almighty through dance. During ceremonies, the dervishes, dressed in a long white tunic and a cylindrical camel hair cap, pivot on the tips of the first toes of the left foot, tracing a circle around the track in several periods of ten to thirty minutes. The position of their hands is symbolic: the right hand raised to the sky collects the divine grace that the dervish transmits to the earth by the left hand turned towards the ground. The dervishes turn to the sound of the ney (reed flute with an oboe mouthpiece) and against a background of percussion (frame drum called daf), accompanied by religious songs. Their rotations get faster and faster until they enter a state of trance and mystical ecstasy.
The dance of the dervishes is in fact a prayer, leading to supreme union with God. Having a cosmic dimension, it symbolizes the rotation of the planets around the sun. The circle represents the religious law which embraces the Muslim community. At its center is supreme truth, the one god who is the very essence of Islam and who communicates with men through the dervish.
Since 1924 and the establishment of the secular state, the dervishes are no longer really in the odor of holiness in Turkey. Officially, sects and religious brotherhoods, as well as ritual dances are prohibited. However, in Istanbul and especially in Konya a certain tolerance exists. Why in Konya? Quite simply because the order of the whirling dervishes was founded by Mevlana in this city south of Ankara. Every year, on the anniversary of the poet's death, on December 17, this holy city, which houses the religious's tomb in the heart of the Anatolian steppes, pays homage to him with a festival of whirling dervishes. In 2007, Konya celebrates Mevlana's 800th birthday.
During the fifteen days preceding the anniversary, the faithful attend religious ceremonies open to all (beware, these are not shows, so discretion is required) at the Mevlana mausoleum. This former convent has now become a museum of Islamic art which welcomes many pilgrims. Crowd guaranteed… Indeed, the Konya festival attracts followers of the Sufi mysticism of Mevlana from all over the world. A festival of mystical music of all religions is also organized at the same time at the Mevlana Center in Konya.
You should know that the price of hotels is soaring and that Konya loses some of its spiritual austerity (the city is an Islamist stronghold) at this time of year. But if you have the chance to attend a ceremony of whirling dervishes, you will undoubtedly be spellbound by the beauty of the music, the fervor that emanates from it and the poetry of this dancing religion. If this is not the case, console yourself: every last Saturday of the month, a performance of the whirling dervishes is organized by the Mevlana Cultural Center from 20 p.m. Free, it is open to everyone. And there are fewer people than during the festival.
Turkish Tourist Board
Site dedicated to the ceremonies of Rumi's 800th anniversary
Whirling Dervish Videos
Konya Tourism Office
Tél. : 0090-332-351-10-74/350-64-89.
Konya Mystical Music Festival Site
Istanbul Whirling Dervish Site