We continue our “Take a Look at Turkey” series with a trip to Konya to see the Whirling Dervishes.

Konya and the Whirling Dervishes (Mevlevi)

Konya is an easy drive from Fethiye – take the mountain road to Antalya, then follow the ring road to Alanya.  You’ll soon see Manavgat appear on the road signs and, just after Manavgat, a well-signed, left turn to Konya.  On the map this road may seem equivalent to a British ‘B’ road but it is actually a fast road curving up to the central Anatolian plateau.  In December 2005 we did the drive from Fethiye to Konya in 6 hours including a stop for breakfast and another break for tea.

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Konya gets a bad press in Turkey as an ultra right wing city, but in two visits in September and December 2005 we met with very friendly, helpful people – and ate some delicious oven-roasted lamb at Damla – a restaurant five minutes walk from the Mevlana Museum.  When you get to Konya just follow the signs for Mevlana and you’ll end up at the Museum, once a dervish convent.  There are numerous hotels in this area, from very basic to 4-star.

Konya was the capital of the Seljuks in Turkey from the end of the 11th century to the {mosimage}beginning of the 14th.  It has many beautiful buildings from this period but this article is going to focus on the whirling dervishes for which Konya is internationally renowned.  Their founder, Mevlana Celaleddin-I Rumi (known as Mevlana in Turkey; Rumi in Iran and Afghanistan) was born in 1207 in Balkh, Afghanistan.  At some time between 1215 and 1220 his father, a theologian, jurist and mystic, fled the advancing Mongols and came to Konya.  On the death of his father, Mevlana took over the position of sheikh in the dervish learning community in Konya.  For the remainder of his life he grew in stature as a mystical, religious leader developing the ritual whirling ceremony called ‘sema’ and producing volumes of poetry, prose, sermons and prayers.  He died on 17th December 1273.

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The sema is performed in dervish tekke (the traditional name for the building where the whirling ceremony takes place) all over the country.  In Istanbul the Galata Tekke (in Tunel, just off the main street Istiklal Caddesi) opens its doors to those who want to see a sema on two Sundays per month.  In Konya there is a new Mevlana Cultural Centre where the sema is performed on a daily basis during the tourist season.  Each year from 7th – 17th December the dervishes hold a ‘Festival of Whirling’ to commemorate the death of Mevlana.  This year we managed to get tickets for the final sema on the 17th – also attended by the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition – for the dervishes the most holy night of the year.

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The sema is usually preceded by a musical performance with choral and solo singing.  Instruments include the ‘ney’ (long, bamboo flute) and ‘kanun’ (Turkish zither).  After the music the dervishes enter wearing black cloaks over their distinctive white costumes.  The actual sema is in seven parts: prayer, specific musical salutes and the whirling.  For a detailed description see www.turkishitems.com/articles/english/mevlana-sema-mevlevilik-sufism.html or type ‘sema’ into Google. 

Even if you don’t understand the symbolism of the sema it is still an amazing spectacle and one you should definitely try to observe while living in Turkey.

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