Whirling Dervishes


Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus.
Related to Whirling Dervishes: Sufism
Enlarge picture
Spinning rapidly in place, these Whirling Dervishes perform in Istanbul, Turkey. Dervishes achieve a higher state of conciousness in this fascinating Sufi tradition practiced by the Mevlevi. Getty Images.

Whirling Dervishes

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

As Western travelers published accounts of the Ottoman Empire in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, among the most prominent images were of the Whirling Dervishes. Their ecstatic dance seemed unusual and novel to Western eyes, yet the dervishes contributed an important element to the development of Muslim culture, especially in Turkey, the center of the Ottoman Empire.

Those who did a little research learned that the dervishes were members of a semi-secret Sufi mystical religious community, the Mevlevi, founded by Mevlana Celaleddin (also known as Jelaluddin al-Rumi) in the thirteenth century. Rumi was born in what is now Tajikistan in 1207. His family left their homeland to escape the invading Mongols. Settling in what is present-day Turkey, he followed his father in becoming a scholar. Here he was also introduced to Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam. The key event in Rumi’s life was the death of his teacher. He expressed his grief through poetry, music, anddance. As he continued to write, the major theme of both his poetry and prose was the love of God. His death on December 17, 1273, is commemorated annually by members of the order.

Within the order, the whirling dance, and its accompanying music, is designed to induce a trancelike state in which the love of God becomes personal reality. Music is provided by a flute and various string and percussion instruments. Rumi’s poetry is recited to the music. The chief drummer serves as the ceremonial conductor. The most obvious feature of the dance is the twirling. It is done in a precise manner around an imaginary axis that runs from the head to the stationary left foot. The right hand is lifted upward to receive God’s love, which is transmitted downward through the heart and to the earth via the left arm. The circular movement is prompted by the steady rise and fall of the right foot, which follows the beat of the music. Significant deviation in the method of spinning quickly produces mere dizziness rather than a heightened consciousness.

One of the order’s sheikhs, Jelaluddin Loras (d. 1985), introduced the mystical teachings and practices of the Mevlevi to the West in the 1970s. An initial following was brought together in the Threshold Society, which in the 1990s relocated from Vermont to California. In 1990 the head of the society, Dr. Kabir Edmund Helminski, was the order’s representative in North America. Among the activities of the society has been the sponsoring of events at which visiting members of theorder from Turkey allow the public to see and experience the dervish dance and music. The Mevlevi Order is headed today by a descendant of Rumi, Frank Hemdem Celebi, who succeeded his father in 1996.

Sources:

Friedlander, Shems. The Whirling Dervishes. Albany: SUNY Press, 1992.
Hatman, Talat Sait. Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi and the Whirling Dervishes: Sufi Philosophy, Whirling Rituals, Poems of Ecstasy, Miniature Paintings. Istanbul: Dost Yayinlari, 1983.
Helminski, Camille, and Kabir Edmund Helminski. The Rumi Collection: An Anthology of Translations of Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi. Boston: Shambhala Classics, 2000.
Rumi, Jelaluddin Mevlana. The Essential Rumi. Trans. Coleman Barks with John Moyne. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995.
References in periodicals archive ?
The 14 different figures of whirling dervishes on both sides come into existence in the sema of soil and fire which embraces all creatures with love by turning around heart from right to left (Figure 4).
The nightly concerts will feature the Whirling Dervishes on Saturday, May 8 and Omar Faruk Tekbilek on Sunday, May 9.
The evening will feature classical Turkish music, poetry, singing and the prayer dancing of the Whirling Dervishes.
Astronomers have long suspected that the planet-forming disks of gas and dust that surround many newborn stars put the brakes on these whirling dervishes.
His first ballet The Firebird may be an extravagant costume drama, but it is difficult not to be impressed when the stage is filled with whirling dervishes and Nao Sakuma is hovering in the wings as the destroying Firebird.
TURKISH Sufi music comes to Coventry this month as Warwick Arts Centre presents Whirling Dervishes in Whispers of Love.
After it was clear that Molly Smolen was 'the chosen one', she stood paralysed and doll-like in the centre of the whirling dervishes for what seemed an eternity.
A grand and sometimes cheerfully kitsch ceremony combined children's choirs, Beethoven's Ode to Joy (Bosnia is desperate to join the EC), Orff's Carmina Burana, a plangent marching Turkish brass band, brave divers, (1) rhythmic dancers, slightly torpid, whirling dervishes, and the biggest bangs and flashes since the end of the civil war between Croats (Catholics) and Muslims in 1994.
But the main problem with the whirling dervishes has nothing to do with the amount of electricity they produce.
The sellout audience was entertained by whirling Dervishes, futuristic punks, an African story and much more.
Allen Iverson and Jackie Stiles (the one without the tattoos) were the whirling dervishes who made everyone ecstatic in 2000-2001.
And so they come, every year between the 10th and 17th December, to marvel at the spectacle of the Whirling Dervishes.