The Whirling Dervishes

From the thirteenth century until the suppression of the sect by Kemal Ataturk, writes Anne Fremantle, these enthusiasts symbolized their religious beliefs by means of their ecstatic dances.

The whirling dervishes were founded by Jelaliddin Rumi (1207-1273), known to his followers as Mevlana, ‘our master’, and they flourished in Turkey until 1926, when they were suppressed by Kemal Ataturk. But since 1956 the Turkish Government has permitted an annual celebration at Konya in Anatolia, where Rumi lived from the age of fourteen until his death, and where he is buried, of a week of whirling or, as the dervishes prefer to call it, of ‘turning’, which culminates each year on the anniversary of the Shah-i Arus, ‘the nuptial night’, that of Rumi’s death, on December 17th.

The performers, called ‘turners’ or ‘dervishes’, number around twenty-five; their ages vary from eight to eighty-nine. The musicians generally number about forty. All the performers are Mevlevis, members of the Muslim order, or properly, of the Sufi (mystic congregation) founded by Rumi: all whirling dervishes are Mevlevis, but by no means all Mevlevis are ‘turners’, though all may become so - if they wish to and can learn to ‘turn’.

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