You’ll see Whirling Dervish performances advertised throughout Istanbul, offering an evening of entertainment. But for an authentic experience, I chose to attend a true Mevlevi religious ritual at the Galata Dervish Monastery.
The Mevlevi order was founded in the 13th century by the followers of Mevlana Rumi, an Islamic Sufi mystic and poet, who started the practice of whirling as a way to get closer to God. The Whirling Dervish dance is is part of a ceremony called a Sema. The dance is performed with one had uplifted toward the sky, “receiving from God” and the other hand pointing down toward the ground, “giving life to the earth”. The clothing that the dervishes wear is also symbolic: the white gown is a symbol of death, the black cloak that envelops them at the beginning and end of the ceremony symbolizes the grave, and the tall brown hat stand for the tombstone.
In 2008, UNESO declared the Sema a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
The ceremony can usually be seen at the Galata Dervish Monastery on Sunday afternoons, at 5 PM. Tickets are available for sale outside the gate of the monastery on the day of the performance.
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