The Dervish Clothing
Dervishes wear tall, conical felt hats on their heads which signify the tombstones of their egos. They wear long, white robes with full skirts which represent the shrouds of their egos. Over those they wear voluminous black cloaks representing their worldly tombs. They remove these at the beginning of the ceremony to symbolize their deliverance from the cares and attachments of this world.
The Semâ (Whirling Ritual)
The semâ begins with a chanted prayer to The Prophet, who represents love, and all prophets before him. Next a kettledrum sounds as a symbol of the Divine order of the Creator, followed by haunting musical improvisation on the ney (reed flute) which symbolizes the Divine Breath which gives life to everything.
The master bows, then leads the dervishes in a circle around the hall. As they pass the master's ceremonial position at the head of the hall, they bow to each other. This portrays the salutation of soul to soul concealed by shapes and bodies.
Eventually, the semâ reaches a point where all dervishes are simultaneously whirling. After about 10 minutes, all stop and kneel. Then rising, they begin again. This combination of whirling followed by salute is performed a total of four times. Each of the four repetitions of kneeling is a salute, and they signify:
At the conclusion of the whirling, the hafiz reads the Koran, especially the verse from Sura Bakara 2, verse 115: "Unto God belong the East and the West, and wherever you turn, there is God's countenance. He is all-embracing, all-knowing."
The semâ closes with a prayer for the peace of the souls of all Prophets and all believers.
An Important Warning to Dancers
Many dancers have been fascinated by the beautiful, haunting music used by dervishes. Played on the ney (a type of flute) and drums, and accompanied by chanting, this music has the power to captivate even when the words of the chants are in a language you can't understand. Never, never use dervish music (or any other Sufi music) for belly dance performances, especially if it contains vocals!!!! The chants are prayers, and using such music for Oriental dance would be deeply insulting and offensive to Muslims. Please respect Islam, and don't profane Islamic holy music in this way.
For Visitors to Turkey
The holy city of Konya hosts the museum/shrine containing the tombs of Rumi, his father, his son, and several great leaders of the Mevlevi dervish order. For Turkish Muslims, this is a very holy place, and some people make pilgrimages to it to seek Rumi's intercession.
Tourists visiting the Mevlâna Müzesi should approach it with the respect a religious shrine deserves. Even those who do not follow Islam should remember that this shrine is holy to Muslims, and conduct themselves in a manner that will not interfere with their pilgrimage experience. It would be disrespectful to wear shorts or miniskirts. Shirts with sleeves 3/4 length or longer would be advisable, and necklines should be high enough to cover cleavage.
A current guidebook should be able to identify where in Turkey it's possible to see a semâ. Semâs are typically open to observers, even non-Muslims. Alternatively, a folk dance show may include a portrayal of whirling dervishes in addition to village dance forms.
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