Position: 37°52’09″N 32°30’58″E

Based on my recent survey (p2) 100% of kids growing up in 1960s America were called ‘whirling dervishes’ by their exhausted parents. Given the excellence of international studies in America’s grades K-3 we of course assumed a whirling dervish was some relative of the Tasmanian Devil, long time nemesis of Bugs Bunny. Old Tazzy resembled an actual Tasmanian Devil as much as he did a beturbaned Turk. In modern America such ignorance and unconscious bias is simply not tolerated. The result is it’s nearly impossible to find Warner Brothers cartoons from the 1950s broadcast anywhere. Eliminate the reference source, eliminate the bias, right?

Perhaps. But like so many things from our childhoods, oblique references to marsupials and religious sects aren’t explained except by happenstance. I had forgotten all about dervishes, whirling, swaying or standing stock still until we arrived in Turkey and learned from Marie and Phil (the crew of Red Roo) that the hub of whirling culture lay smack in the centre of the country.

Divine

Neither Tasmanian nor Fez bearing Moroccans, the Mevlana dervishes are Sufi Muslims who have danced since at least the 13th century. Sufism is generally regarded as the more mystic arm of Islam, and whirling perhaps the most divine expression of devotion. With their right hand raised palm upwards to receive God’s beneficence and their heads tilted to the side, the ability to pirouette for hours without falling over comes only with practice and faith. Dancers often reach a state of rapturous self-hypnosis.

Although you can find whirling in several parts of the country, the Mevlana Cultural Centre in Konya is keeping the spiritual side of this vanishing art alive. Shows take place on Saturday evenings throughout the year. We arrived on the first night of Ramadan which meant the Sema started at 9:00PM, two hours after the usual time. Without translation we weren’t able to fully engage with the spoken words, but the music and swirling movement quickly transcended language. We sat mesmerized for a full hour and a half.

We saved you a few moments in this short video:

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6 Comments

  1. I was mesmerised by group of 10-12 whirling dervishes I saw in central Turkey a few years ago. It is etched on my memory. Good to be mesmerised once more this morning. ‘Thanks for the memory’.

    Jenny

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