Whirling Dervishes: A Turkish Tradition

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  • By Mehmet Birbiri
  • 39th Air Base Wing Host Nation Advisor
"Come, come, whoever; whatever you are.
Come again infidel, idolator or fire-worshiper come again.
Our monastery is not a place of despair,
Even if you have violated your oaths a hundred times, come again."

Millions, from every corner of the earth, have accepted that invitation throughout the centuries.

Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumi , the founder of the Whirling Dervishes, message of love, brotherhood and tolerance was so powerfully expressed in his poetry that his teaching spread throughout the Muslim world even before his death Dec. 17, 1273.

Thousands of tourist and pilgrims will go to Konya next week to observe the Whirling Dervishes dance. Mevlevi disciples come from throughout Turkey to celebrate the wedding night of their founder, Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumi.

Konya (ancient Iconium) which St. Paul visited three times, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It was already a major political and religious center when Mevlana, who would become the founder of the Whirling Dervishes, arrived there in 1226.

He was a professor in the theological seminary and a preacher in the mosque.
Mevlana became so popular that everyone, from the sultan to the person selling fruit and vegetables on the street, referred to him as "our master."

Mevlana's message of love, peace, brotherhood and unity with God appealed to the people of that strife-torn time. Nevertheless, the religiously conservative citizens objected to his use of stringed instruments, drums and reed flutes. This music accompanied whirling, through which he and his disciples sought to align themselves with nature and thus with God.

Mevlana insisted; however, that prayer has a motion.
His followers eventually developed the distinctive whirling movement of their unique prayer ritual. Symbolic movements, special clothing and musical instruments are all part of the Mevlevi ceremony.

The dance, in three parts, represents the states of knowing God, seeing God and uniting with God. Ecstacy and passion were hallmarks of Mevlana's thoughts of art.
Mevlana brought mysticism to the excitement of poetic recitations, music and dance. He came to be revered by men of many faiths and symbolized the unity of mankind.

"There are hundreds of thousands of bodies, but only one soul," he said. Iranians claim him as a national poet since he wrote in Persian. Afghans love him, because he is a Turk and taught on their soil.

Before his death, Mevlana told his followers not to cry and mourn when he died; because for him, death was a "wedding day, a nuptial night. The day you get back to your origin, the day you get united with God."

At his funeral there was a large gathering of people from all backgrounds and religions who adhered to his peaceful and universal ideas.

His son founded the Mevlevi order in his name and built a mausoleum in Konya. It then
became a gathering place for all humanity who came to respect his preachings of love, brotherhood, peace, humanity and tolerance.

Many nobles, politicians, artists and statesmen became members of his order. Ottoman sultans visited his tomb before departing on long campaigns.

Since the 13th century, Konya's citizens have welcomed foreign tourists. Annual performances are given during the week preceding Dec. 17. To accommodate spectators, the dance is performed in a gymnasium decorated for the occasion.

Various travel agencies offer trips to see the Whirling Dervishes between Dec. 10 through 17.