The first time I heard of a whirling dervish was in a song lyric from the film The Sound of Music. As a child, I wondered what in the world was meant when the nuns sang that “Maria could throw a whirling dervish out of whirl”? Much later in life when I traveled to Istanbul, Turkey I jumped at the chance to find out.
A dervish is someone who practices Sufism, the 700-year old mystical Mevlevi sect of Islam. During their ceremonies devotees whirl, or spin around and around, in a trance-like state, ostensibly getting closer to God with their movements. They wear long flowing cloaks, representing burial shrouds, and tall wool hats that symbolize their ego’s tombstone. Their religion is one based on love and passion for the divine. They believe that through music, meditation, chanting, and dance, spiritual enlightenment can be attained.
It was an extraordinary experience to witness one of their rituals up close and personal. I couldn’t believe that they could whirl like that for close to an hour without losing their balance! To anyone who is traveling to Turkey: I highly recommend getting a glimpse into their fascinating world. It is certainly like nothing I’d ever seen before.
Here is a link to a short video I shot when I visited the Mevlana Order in Istanbul, Turkey: