Sufism & Whirling Dervishes in Istanbul - Turkey
Monastery Visits - Ceremonies - Tours - Organisation

Giving the dervish a whirl

It was a highly unlikely bestseller: a book of poems written by a 13th century Islamic mystic. But Jallaludin Rumi is big business in the US, and the bandwagon that has been gathering speed over there is about to roll into Britain

Peter Culshaw
Saturday December 1, 2001
The Guardian

It was in a carpet shop deep in the Istanbul bazaar that I first realised there was something of a phenomenon happening around Jallaludin Rumi, the 13th century Islamic mystic poet and founder of the Mevlani Sufi order, better known as the whirling dervishes. Perusing rugs one afternoon, I ran into Omar Kaczmarczyk (pronounced very nearly like his nickname, "Cash My Cheque"), an A-list Hollywood producer who makes Superman sequels and the like, who told me that Rumi was the bestselling poet in North America, that simply everyone was reading him and that he intended to make an epic biopic about him. The fact that Rumi was shifting in huge quantities in the US - and continues to sell post-September 11 - was startling enough, but the notion of a big-budget Hollywood movie of his life seemed surreal. I was in the carpet shop owned by Ahmed, a well-known dervish, because I'd been hugely impressed by the sheer passion of Sufi music, much of which is trance music, its aim being to heal, transform and connect to the divine. It includes the Qawaals in Pakistan, whose best known exponent, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, was, before his untimely death at the age of 49, a kind of world music Pavarotti. But I'd come across other forms of Sufi music, too: wild Aissawa trance drummers in Fes; strange, 100-year-old recordings from central Asia; intense and beautiful singers such as Abida Parveen in Pakistan; African Sufi chanting in Senegal, and even avant garde experimental Sufis in Indonesia.

It was the richness of this music and poetry that had drawn me to examine the philosophy behind Sufism. Defining it is difficult. One dervish told me, "That's like trying to describe the colour red." One version is that the Sufis, or dervishes, are simply the mystics of Islam, but many practitioners feel Sufism approaches the core of all religions. Its lack of dogma and inclusiveness has always attracted poets, musicians and artists, and no doubt is one reason for Rumi's appeal in the west. Many Sufis in history were wild characters, such as the 8th-century saint Rabia, a woman who went through the streets of Basra in Iraq with a torch in one hand to set fire to heaven and a bucket of water in the other to douse the fires of hell, "So no one worships God for fear of hell or greed of heaven."

Several Sufis said that the time was approaching when their esoteric knowledge, their maps of the unconscious, accumulated over centuries, would be spread to the west, which was now a spiritual desert. While the west has been developing its technological prowess, the dervishes have developed a sophisticated type of inner technology, their practices a way of moving towards self-realisation.

I'd been told that some of the dervishes of Istanbul, followers of Rumi, were among the most advanced Sufis. Sufism's appeal to direct experience is often seen as subversive, bypassing man-made religious institutions, reaching the divine through the help of a sheikh or Sufi teacher. In one poem, Rumi says we should look for God in our hearts, rather than in a church, temple or mosque. What I was looking for was access to a dervish ceremony. Some are open to the public, but others remain illegal and secretive, and Kaczmarczyk and I were hoping Ahmed would take us to some of these.

Kaczmarczyk told me his film would look at the intense relationship between Rumi and his mentor, Shams of Tabriz, who inspired most of his poetry and who disappeared in mysterious circumstances. (There are those who think it was a gay relationship, though this is fiercely denied by Islamicists.) As for who would be writing the screenplay, "It's gotta be Coleman Barks," Kaczmarczyk drawled. "It's like Rumi flows through him. The guy is awesome."

Coleman Barks never used to be awesome, at least not so as many people would notice. For years he was professor of poetry at Georgia University. In the 1970s, his friend, the poet Robert Bly, gave him some academic translations of Rumi and said, "These poems need to be released from their cages." For seven years, Barks worked on the translations, only then publishing a couple of slim volumes with a small New England press. But when Harper San Francisco published a selection, The Essential Rumi, the book went like a rocket, selling more than half a million copies, an astonishing amount for poetry, making Rumi the bestselling poet in the US. The bandwagon was rolling.

Deepak Chopra, one-time endocrinologist and now New Age guru to the stars, roped in some showbiz pals, including Madonna and Demi Moore, to record a Rumi CD, A Gift Of Love. Donna Karan staged a fashion show at which Rumi was read as the world's supermodels sashayed down the catwalk. A greetings card company contacted Barks to suggest a Rumi day, video artist Bill Viola took to quoting Rumi as an inspiration, and Philip Glass set to music Barks's translations of Rumi in a stage show entitled Monsters Of Grace.

Barks, meanwhile, released Poet Of The Heart, a video of himself and Chopra reading Rumi, with an introduction by Debra Winger, and has his own idea for a movie. But he isn't the only Rumi translator on a career high. Shahram Shiva can be seen reading Rumi every Thursday at midnight on cable TV in New York. He has also developed a Four-Step Method To Whirling "based on the common gravitational laws of the universe", which is perfect for cash-rich, time-poor Americans.

The Rumi bandwagon could be starting to roll in the UK, too. A new translation by Raficq Abdulla has appeared here, and a bunch of Rumi enthusiasts called ArRum have just opened a club in Clerkenwell, London, for a hip young Muslim crowd. It has a juice bar, fountain and fireplace (but no alcohol, of course) and Rumi readings are a regular feature.

When Barks performed his Rumi translations on a rare trip to London, at a multi-faith extravaganza called Music Village, held in Islington, he received a rapturous response. This, he believes, proves that there is a "great thirst for the ecstatic and the gnostic in the west. Robert Bly suggested to me that this is one main reason for the interest in Rumi. He says that in our sacred texts such as the Bible, those elements were cut out, at the council of Nicea in the third century, for example, and we've been lonesome for this ecstatic material ever since."

But is this interest in Sufism just a fad? "Maybe," Barks says, "but it doesn't feel that way. It hasn't got that shiny, frivolous T-shirt thing. It's more than Hula Hoops." So what does he make of the Madonna and Donna Karan manifestations of Rumi? "It does feel like a dilution. The attunement to Rumi isn't as deep as I'd like, but maybe it's a way of introducing Rumi to a wider audience, so it's good and bad. Maybe some 17-year-old in the midwest will latch on to it, and his life will be changed." He pauses. "And what I do may be a distortion of Rumi. As the French say, all translation is betrayal."

If there is a controversial aspect of Barks's take on Rumi, it's that he views him as a bridge between faiths rather than as the specifically Islamic poet that Muslim scholars see. "There's a lot of discussion about that right now," Barks says. "Rumi is certainly important in many different cultures, and had followers of different faiths in his lifetime. I see him as someone who kicked free of doctrinal confinement and got to the core from which we all worship. I think he saw these God clubs as divisive. Others may see him differently."

Rumi used the language of romance, but was often outrageous - many poems are about sexual love or drunkenness; and there's also a sense of ambiguity and frisson of the forbidden, common to much Sufi poetry. Early last century, some poems were translated only into Latin, to protect delicate sensibilities. One is the story of an effeminate looking man who, because of his looks, gets a job in a female bath-house and spends all day in a permanent state of excitement massaging women. Only when he is nearly discovered is he forced to rethink the way he lives his life. Another is a symbolic parable about two women who have sex with a donkey.

"I think Rumi just loved the variety of people's desires and the absurdity of them," Barks says. "There's a surrealist poem about a fish wanting linen shirts. It certainly gives him a Shakespearean variation of metaphor. He uses the language of romance from the Provençal tradition, from India and North Africa, and explodes those traditions into a new type of love poem, where there is no synapse between lover and beloved. It may be that only now, 700 years later, are we beginning to understand him."

Rumi has always been a major figure in the east. As Andrew Harvey, novelist and author of The Way Of Passion: A Celebration Of Rumi, points out: "His odes have been chanted by crowds on pilgrimages for centuries and sung with the highest reverence, from Tangier to Cairo, Lahore and Sarajevo, into the humblest, most remote villages of Afghanistan, Turkey, Iran and India. No other poet in history, not even Shakespeare or Dante, has had so exalted and comprehensive an impact."

Harvey believes Rumi will help lead the west out of its capitalist, consumerist nihilism. He sees Rumi as "an essential guide to the new mystical renaissance that is struggling to be born today. He is the spiritual inspiration for the 21st century." But he warns against seeing Rumi as "a Jerry Garcia of the Sacred Heart".

Rumi is acceptable to the liberal US establishment, even if they have put him in exotic soft focus, down playing his radicalism. Many among Rumi's new audience are New Agers in search of something a little more "real". Rumi is part of a tried and tested Sufi tradition, and Barks's version of him as a bridge between religions appeals to those who see themselves as "spiritual" but who are also critical of established creeds and unwilling to sign up for any particular orthodoxy.The Rumi cult is a further sign of a strong appetite for culture that appears not to be commercialised (witnessed in everything from million-selling books on Tibetan Buddhism to the Buena Vista Social Club), even if there is a sophisticated marketing push behind the poet. According to Barks's lawyer, the archetypal Rumi buyer is a 34-year-old, college-educated woman - the spiritual end of the Bridget Jones market. But there is no doubt that Rumi has become a key figure in the States, a talisman of the authentic - in dialectical opposition to the virtual, the packaged, the karaoke, and an important figure for the anti-globalisation generation.

But the west's fascination with Rumi and Sufi writing isn't entirely new. The Rubaiyat Of Omar Khayyam was a hit more than 100 years ago in Edward Fitzgerald's translation. The more mystical British poets have always been aware of Rumi and other Sufi writers. Robert Graves wrote the introduction to Idries Shah's book The Sufis, which was reviewed at length by Ted Hughes, who said, "The Sufis are the most sensible collection of people on earth." Richard Burton, Victorian explorer and translator of erotic classics the Kama Sutra and The Perfumed Garden, was initiated as a dervish, while Doris Lessing is the highest profile modern novelist who has followed the Sufi path. In an essay on Idries Shah, she explained its attraction: "Sufi truth is at the core of every religion, its heart, and religions are only the outward vestments of an inner reality."

But merely reading about this is not enough, according to many Sufis; it's the spiritual equivalent of going to a restaurant and trying to eat the menu. "The real essential Rumi," Barks told me, "is the Zikr, a ritual of remembrance of Allah." It was this I felt I had to see, this that had brought me to Ahmed's carpet shop.

Finding private dervish ceremonies is not easy - officially they are illegal, though they are tolerated as long as they remain low profile. I had already witnessed the largest dervish ceremony, the annual celebration of Rumi's death (his "wedding night", when he said he was to be married to the eternal). In subzero temperatures in a baseball stadium in Konya, Anatolia, where Rumi had lived for decades before he died in 1273, 50 dervishes whirled in front of a couple of thousand people, including a busload of Japanese tourists. After the ceremony, in private houses in Konya, wilder, more amateur forms of dervish parties take place.

But I wanted to experience the real stuff, the Zikr of which Barks talked, which is how I found myself among 80 dervishes in a small, hidden tekke

religious house) off a side street in Istanbul, its wooden interior like that of a ski lodge. After about an hour of different songs, the dervishes began to lean forward rhythmically and chant the name of Allah - speeding up like an express train. A violin and zither sent chills down my spine, and out of nowhere emerged a solo voice full of heartbreaking longing, similar to the muezzin's call from the minarets. This was serious blues music. I was given permission to take photographs, but I couldn't get up, pinned back by the numbers and by what seemed like the sheer energy of the spiritual force field. Then 12 dervishes filed into the back of the room, took off their black cloaks and started spinning with incredible lightness and grace, their angelic whirling a perfect counterpoint to the earthy chanting. Nothing had prepared me for the disorienting feeling that the dervishes were defying gravity. Like much of Rumi and Sufism in general, the performance was heavy with symbolism - the funereal black cloak is a tomb and in casting this off, the dervishes discard all worldly ties. They spin with their right arms extended to heaven and their left arms to the floor. Grace is received from Allah and distributed to humanity. The dancers themselves represent the heavenly bodies circling the sun, who is their sheikh, the spiritual leader.

Most followers of these sheikhs have stories about their psychic powers, stories I treated with scepticism, until they seemed to be confirmed when my translator went white at one point in the discussion after the ceremony. The dervishes often bring their dreams to be interpreted by the sheikh and this man told me the sheikh had just read out the text of a 15th century poem and explained it. The poem, he said, was in detail what he had dreamt of the previous night. Others, however, told me not to be distracted by such apparent psychic powers: "The real miracle is the joy."

Afterwards, I met the sheikh, who said his name was Sultan Veled (not his real name but, the name of Rumi's son), and I asked him what the Zikr meant. He said, "Zikr means remembrance. The purpose of life is to remember Allah. Every electron and proton is whirling around a nucleus, as the planets whirl around the sun - and all of them are chanting for Allah. Even your heartbeat" - and here he thumped his chest - "is chanting Al-lah, Al-lah."

I went out into the cold Istanbul air and walked by the Bosphorus. As the city lights sparkled on the river, I felt I'd experienced something of the power of Rumi, amazed that his presence should seem so alive eight centuries and 20 generations after his death. I'd been brought up to be wary of such passion, but I still envied them their longing, their sense of brotherhood, their faith. Right now, though, I needed a drink.

LOCATION of our Meeting Point in Sultanahmet :

( Phone : +90 544 220 10 22 / +90 212 527 68 59 / +90 212 638 12 15 )

Here is our adres :
Google Maps      :

Les Arts Turcs - Art Gallery & Studio
Alemdar Mah Incili Çavus Sok.
No: 19 Floor : 3 (Behind The Underground Cistern)
Sultanahmet 34400
Istanbul, Turkey

Whirling Dervish CEREMONY in a Real Monastery
Every Mondays & Thursdays @ 20:00

Known to the west as Whirling Dervishes, the Mevlevi Order was founded by Mevlana Rumi in the 13th century. The Order wrote of tolerance, forgiveness, and enlightenment. They survive today as a cultural brotherhood. They are not theatrical spectacles but sacred rituals. The ritual of the Mevlevi sect, known as the sema, is a serious religious ritual performed by Muslim priests in a prayer trance to Allah.

Whirling Dervishes - Sufi Music Concert & Ceremony
Every Tuesdays & Saturdays @ 19:30

Whirling Dervish CEREMONY in Sirkeci Train Station

Start : 19 : 30 pm - Finish : 20 : 30 Pm

Ticket Price : 40 Turkish Liras

Islamic Religious Tours In Istanbul
Half Day Tour & Lectures with Guidance

Sahabe ( The companions of Prophet Muhammed S.A.V )Tombs Mosques - Cemeteries - Religious Places

Istanbul is the center of religion for centuries. After the ottoman period Islamic Religion spreaded througout the city. The first mosque in Istanbul was built in Kadikoy on the Asian side of the city, which was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1353.

Lectures About Sufism in Istanbul

In this lectures ; We will try to find answer to your questions and explain you the general essences such as ;

* What are the doctrines of Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi ?

* What does " Dervish " mean in Sufism ?

* How is the family life of a Sufi Dervish ?

Whirling Dervishes - Hocapasha Culture Center
Everday Except Tuesdays and Thursdays !


Everday at 19: 30 pm
( Monday , Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday ,Saturday and Sunday )

Finish : 20 : 30 Pm

Price : 50 Turkish Liras including FREE beverages

Mevlana Tour Week Konya Turkey

Annual Seb-i Arus Ceremonies

01 -17 December 2013

3 night 4 Days Mevlana Week Tour

( Depart from istanbul any days between 01 - 17 December 2013 )

Ceremony Organisations for Festivals & Special Events

Whirling Dervish Ceremony Musicians & Dervishes Group

8 Whirling dervishes ( 4 Male - 4 Female Dervishes )
---- 1 Leader semazen
8 musicians ( Ud - Ney - Kanun - Bendir and Vocals )
--- 1 spiritual master, 1 tour Manager

Mevlevi Ceremony Stages & Duration

Contact : Alp Aksahin -

Dervish Ceremony Organisation in International Press

Who is Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi ?

Mevlana Celaddiin-i Rumi is a 13th century Muslim saint and Anatolian mystic known throughout the world for his exquisite poems and words of wisdom, which have been translated into many languages. Rumi, as he is known in the west, is the best selling poet in USA. The United Nations declared 2007 The Year of Rumi and celebrations were held world wide.

Mevlana was a Muslim, but not an orthodox type. His doctrine advocates unlimited tolerance, positive reasoning, goodness, charity and awareness through love. To him all religions were more or less truth. Mevlana looked with the same eye on Muslim, Jew and Christian alike. His peaceful and tolerant teachings have appealed to men of all sects and creeds. In 1958, Pope John XXIII wrote a special message saying: “In the name of the Catholic World, I bow with respect before the memory of Rumi.”

Mevlana died on 17 December 1273 and was laid to rest beside his father in Konya, in present day Turkey. A splendid shrine, the Mevlana Moseleum was erected over their remains, which is now a museum and place of pilgrimage. Every year on that day, at this magnificient 13th century mausoleum we celebrate Seb-i Arus, his 'Wedding Day', together with thousands of people from all around the world. more

Information About Sufim & Dervish Ceremony.

Known to the west as Whirling Dervishes, the Mevlevi Order was founded by Mevlana Rumi in the 13th century. The Order wrote of tolerance, forgiveness, and enlightenment. They survive today as a cultural brotherhood. They are not theatrical spectacles but sacred rituals. The ritual of the Mevlevi sect, known as the sema, is a serious religious ritual performed by Muslim priests in a prayer trance to Allah. Mevlevi believed that during the sema the soul was released from earthly ties, and able to freely and jubilantly commune with the divine. Dervish literally means "doorway" and is thought to be an entrance from this material world to the spiritual, heavenly world. The Whirling Dervishes played an important part in the evolution of Ottoman high culture. 

From the fourteenth to the twentieth century, their impact on classical poetry, calligraphy and visual arts was profound. Rumi and his followers integrated music into their rituals as an article of faith. Rumi emphasized that music uplifts our spirit to realms above, and we hear the tunes of the Gates of Paradise.

Rumi brought enthusiasm to hearts with his saintly characteristics ; he was a saint , spritual master , whose human mind had been bathed in light ; he cleanses hearts and minds of impurities and rescues them from duality.

He rejects nothing but rather unites , perfects and causes love. He is prejudiced toward none because he knows that everything is the manifestation and actualization of God and he reflects this as a spritual state to the mind and heart of man Mevlana is asuperior and saintly master . He is a system in himself , a life an order. He is a monument to spritually who , through his sublimity , displayed his moral values , his knowledge , wisdom love , intelligence , perception of God , behaviour , everything . His is the true representative of the prophets , the highest element and realization of love and intelligence.
"Man is the nost honorable of all creation."

is one of his maxims.

The Exalted Mevlana embraced those of every language , creed and race or color ; he is the symbol of love peace , brotherhood, and tolerance.

The night of 17 December is the holiest in the Mevlevî calendar, a night of union, a wedding night (Şeb-i Arus), when Mevlana departed the mortal world to become one with He who loves and is loved. It is not a time to mourn but to rejoice: At my death do not lament our separation...As the sun and moon but seem to set,In reality this is a rebirth. Each year thousands of people from the far corners of the world, travel to Konya in response to Mevlana's call of 735 years ago:
"Come, come again, whoever you are, come!
Heathen, fire worshipper or idolatrous, come!
Come even if you broke your penitence a hundred times,
Ours is the portal of hope, come as you are."

To understand Mevlana one should read his works. It is suggested to start with his major work, The Masnavi . Mevlana's books are translated to many languages and are among the best selling books of their sort all over the world. At present, Mevlana, better known there as Rumi, is the "best selling poet" in United States of America. The Essential Rumi by Coleman Barks has sold more than a quarter of a million copies and is one of the top 1000 best selling books at Amazon. It is by far the largest selling poem book ever!
Sufi Tradition & Mevlevi Order

Sufism is a mystical Muslim school of thought and aims to find love and knowledge through direct personal experience of Allah. Sufism, often referred to as the mystical dimension of Islam, was formerly understood in Orientalist scholarship as a spiritual movement that reached its apogee during the medieval period of Islamic history, with its crowning achievement being the brilliant literary productions in Arabic and Persian that became the classics of the Sufi tradition.

Many Sufi orders exist across the Muslim world. Sufis are "mystics" on the path to the Beloved (God). Most Sufis are Muslims, followers of the religion of Islam. Some Sufis (primarily in "the West") are involved with other religions, or no formal religion -- as directed by the higher source of wisdom within the human heart.

The Mevlevi, or Mevleviye, one of the most well-known of the Sufi orders, was founded in 1273 by Rumi's followers after his death, particularly his son, Sultan Veled Celebi (or Çelebi, Chelebi) in Konya , from where they gradually spread throughout the Ottoman Empire. Today, Mevleviye can be found in many Turkish communities throughout the world but the most active and famous places for their activity are still Konya and Istanbul.

The Mevlevi were a well established Sufi Order in the Ottoman Empire, and many of the members of the order served in various official positions of the Caliphate. The centre for the Mevlevi order was in Konya, where Rumi is buried. There is also a Mevlevi monastery or dergah in Istanbul, near the Galata Tower, where the sema ceremony is performed and accessible to the public.

During Ottoman Empire era, the Mevlevi order produced a number of famous poets and musicians such as Sheikh Ghalib, Ismail Ankaravi (both buried at the Galata Mevlevi-Hane) and Abdullah Sari. Music, especially the ney, play an important part in the Mevelevi order and thus much of the traditional "oriental" music that Westerners associate with Turkey originates with the Mevlevi order. Indeed, if one buys a CD of Turkish Sufi music, chances are it will be Mevlevi religious music.

During the Ottoman period, the Mevlevi order spread into the Balkans, Syria, and Egypt (and is still practiced in both countries where they are known as the Mawlawi order). The Bosnian writer Mesa Selimovic wrote the book Death and the Dervish about a Mevlevi dergah in Sarajevo.

The Mevlevi Order is also linked to other Dervish orders such as the Qadiri (founded in 1165), the Rifa'i (founded in 1182), and the Kalenderis.

The Mevlevi Order was outlawed in Turkey at the dawn of the secular revolution by Kemal Atatürk in 1923.
The Mevlevi Sema Ceremony

Mevleviye are known for their famous practice of whirling dances. At their dancing ceremonies, or Sema, a particular musical repertoire called ayin is played. This is based on four sections of both vocal and instrumental compositions using contrasting rhythmic cycles and is performed by at least one singer, a flute-player (neyzen), a kettledrummer and a cymbal player. The oldest musical compositions stem from the mid-sixteenth century combining Persian and Turkish musical traditions. The repertoire was continuously broadened, and the first notations were made from the early twentieth century onwards.

Dancers would receive 1,001 days of reclusive training within the mevlevihane, a sort ofcloister, where they learnt about ethics, codes of behaviour and beliefs by living a practice of prayer, religious music, poetry and dance. After this training, they remained members of the order but went back to their work and families, combining spiritualism with civic life.

Following a recommended fast of several hours, the whirlers begin to rotate on their left feet in short twists, using the right foot to drive their bodies around the left foot. The body of the whirler is meant to be supple with eyes open, but unfocused so that images become blurred and flowing. The Sema takes place in a large circular-shaped room that is part of the mevlevihane building.

As a result of secularisation policies, all mevlevihane were closed in 1925. In the 1950s, the Turkish government, began allowing the Whirling Dervishes to perform annually in Konya on the Urs of Mevlana, December 17, the anniversary of Rumi's death. In 1974, they were allowed to come to the West. They performed in France, for Pope Paul VI, and at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and other venues in the United States and Canada - under the direction of the late Mevlevi Shaikh Suleyman Hayati Dede. Many practitioners kept their tradition alive in private gatherings, and thirty years later, the Turkish government began to allow performances again, though only in public. From the 1990s, restrictions were eased and private groups re-emerged who try to re-establish the original spiritual and intimate character of the Sema ceremony.