This article was written exclusively for Fethiye Times by Casey Russell.
From 10th December, for six days, the mysterious and world-renowned whirling Dervishes will take centre stage at the Konya Mevlana Culture Centre, and perform their “Sema” dance on the evening of each day.
The Mevlana ritual dance – the Sema – is meant to represent the true journey to maturity and enlightenment, and, over time it has become part of Turkey’s traditional culture and history, this is despite Rumi coming from Persia, which is, today, modern-day Iran.
Watching The Mevlana performance is one of the main reasons that people visit Konya, so, here is an informative guide to what to expect when you witness this once in a lifetime spectacle.
The Mevlana performance
The dance, when performed, is split into seven different parts.
The ritual begins with a “na’t”-(I.e, eulogy)-exalting Prophet Muhammed, who represents divine love. The name for this part is called the “Na’t-l Serif”
Afterwards, part two continues the same exalting as in the first one, but also in this section, the sound of the special dervish drum, called a ‘Kudûm’, starts to echo through the hall.
When all of the exalting has stopped, the third part begins with the haunting sound of a special reed flute, which is called a ‘Ney’. The ‘Ney’ is meant to represent the Breath of God.
The fourth section is when the dervishes, led by the master-(called a ‘Seyh’)-,walk out in a circle and give a greeting to their friends. They do this three times.
In the fifth part, there are many ‘selams’, a special prayer said by the Dervishes. Each ‘selam’ has its own different meaning;
The first is the human perception of his own service and of his glorious creator.
The second is a human beings total amazement in the presence of Allah’s power.
The third, is a human sacrificing his mind to “love”, and all of his feelings to “love”. This is said to be your way of surrendering to Allah and becoming part of him.
In Islam, it is called “Fenafillah”, meaning “Die before you die”.
The last Selam is the completion of his spiritual journey. The Seyh Efendi and the Semazenbasi take part in the “turning” of this Selam. At this point, they are both overjoyed having faith in the Prophets, Books-(I.e.- The Quran, The Torah)-, The Angels and Allah.
After some more reading from the Quran, the dancing begins. After receiving permission from the eldest son of the ‘Seyh’-(master), by kissing him on the hand, the dervishes drop their large black “hirka”-( a long, heavy black coat)-representing their deliverance from worldly attachments.
Now with their black robes removed, a long white robe is revealed.
With their right arms extended reaching up towards the heavens and their left arm pointing to the ground, Grace from above is received from Allah, and is distributed to humanity. The dancers gracefully spin, and in unison, all the dervishes eventually start spinning together, creating a hypnotic and mesmerising ‘constellation’.
Walking among them, the master checks to see if the dervishes are doing the performance correctly.
The dance is repeated over five, 10-minute sessions, and finishes with the ‘hafiz’, a scholar who remembers the whole Quran through memory, chants passages from the Quran, thus, completing the spectacular ritual…
The performance takes place every Saturday throughout the year, but we went during December where, from the 10th-17th of December each year, there’s a performance each evening in remembrance of Jalal Al-Din Rumi, renowned Afghan philosopher and poet who created the dance.
The Order of the Mevlevi
When Rumi died on the seventeenth of December, 1273, his son organised his followers into the brotherhood called the Mevlevi, or whirling dervishes.
In the centuries that followed, hundreds of schools were set up to teach the dance, but ultimately, the teachings of Rumi and his ideology started to influence the country’s political, economic and social life, so in 1925, Ataturk banned them as he considered them, “an obstacle to the country’s advancement”.
They were revived in 1957, however, and the Mevlana are now so popular, that in 2017, the Mevlana Museum was noted as Turkeys most visited museum. There is evidence in all walks of social media posted by people from all over the world that Rumi’s verse and poetry are still celebrated and followed today.
Where to get your tickets
Tickets for the performances from the 10th to the 17th December can be pre-ordered or bought at the door. Usually, the performance will begin at 7pm, so to guarantee a seat, it’s advisable to arrive at the Culture Centre by 6:30pm. There are salep sellers outside the centre and traditional crafts and Mevlana souvenirs for sale at small stalls inside and the area has a really wintery, seasonal feel.
Konya can be reached from Fethiye by car in under 7 hours. Buses also operate regularly to Ankara, where a connection can be caught to Konya.
You can also fly to Istanbul or Ankara, and catch a connecting flight or travel by train to Konya.