Konya is the seventh largest city in Turkey and is situated very centrally, so reaching it is quite easy. Buses, high-speed trains, and local flights can all bring you there from Istanbul within a day. But why go there at all?
Most itineraries of Turkey do not include Konya and it’s often overlooked on tourist websites and planners. While there really isn’t much to do there, it’s unique in one aspect – its deep connection to Sufism and the Dervish.
Here’s all you need to know about the Whirling Dervish and why Konya is the best place to watch their sacred sama ceremony.
The Konya Whirling Dervish Ceremony
First of all, it’s not a ‘show‘. Many people, even some tour operators, and guides call it a Dervish show but it’s a religious ceremony called a ‘Sama‘.
The dervish dances they perform in Istanbul may be just for show, but the one in Konya is a proper spiritual ritual.
The performers are none other than the actual Mewlewī Order! It’s been kept intact over 7 centuries and passed down from generation to generation of Sufis!
Time, Place, and Price
Nowadays the whirling dervish in Konya “perform” (it’s still a ritual for them, more of an art show for the observer) for the public once a week on Saturday at 7 PM. If you decide to visit Konya after all, make sure you are there on Saturday evening!
The show takes place in the Mevlana Cultural Center, about a 15-minute walk from the Museum.
The tickets to the Konya Whirling Dervissh cost only 50 Lira, which is a bit under 2 dollars.
I’d say it’s totally worth it, considering one of the fake shows in Istanbul can cost upwards of 50$!
What to expect from the Konya Dervish Show
In the Centre, there is a huge Sama hall. It’s quite big actually and could probably host upwards of 3000 people. When I was there it didn’t get full and there were plenty of available spots.
The Sufis are either playing a musical instrument, singing, or dancing on the scene. It’s a popular misconception that it’s just the ‘whirling’ that’s the ceremony – on the contrary, Sama is a ritual consisting of a couple of steps with music and dance working together.
The Sufis enter bowing and arranging in a crescent in one part of the floor.
The first to enter is the Semazenbashi (dance master) who puts a red sheepskin on the floor.
The last to enter is the Shaikh (the leader), who walks slowly, bows, and steps on the red sheepskin.
The first part of Sama is an eulogy to the Prophet Mohammed, followed by a flute solo. Then they remove their cloaks, hug or kiss the Shaikh, and go around in a spiral in what’s called the Circling of Veled:
The dancing continues for a few minutes until suddenly it stops and the dervish form groups of 2-3 on the outer part of the circle. Then the whole thing is repeated.
All in all, there are four repetitions together called Selam. In the ceremony I attended they were differentiated by using different colors to illuminate the Semahane (Sema hall).
First, it was the white color and symbolizes humans accepting their status as created beings.
Then they go around kissing the hand of the Shaikh, the color changes to purple and they dance the second segment symbolizing the rapture felt when confronted with God’s omnipotent power.
The color changes to green for the third segment which represents the transformation of rapture at God’s power into love.
Finally, the fourth segment is illuminated in blue symbolizing humans’ return to serve.
The ceremony is always accompanied by music, but no talking. The dervish are silent unless there’s a wajd – a religious ecstasy. It’s never faked though, so it’s very rare.
During the ceremony, there are minor details that each represent something, like how they hold their hands, where they stand, how they dance, etc.
The Sama is part of UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage. While there are practicing Dervish all around Turkey and beyond, the original Mevlevi Order still performs in Konya so it’s the ultimate experience.
What is Sufism?
Sufism is a set of practices within Islam that focus on spirituality and mysticism. This article gives a good overview of Sufism.
Sufi practitioners are divided into orders and one of those orders is that of Rumi, a 13th-century poet from Persia.
Who are the Dervish?
Rumi, better known in Turkey as Mevlana (“our master“), was something of a refugee at the beginning of the 13th century.
His ancestral lands were invaded by the Mongols and traveling on a caravan he migrated West until eventually reaching Konya in the then Seljuk Sultanate.
In Konya, he created an order of Sufis that would focus on reaching religious ecstasy. How? By dancing in circles while singing and playing simple musical instruments.
This is the brief origin story of the Whirling Dervish. The order was nominally founded in the year of his death, 1273, by his followers with the name Mewlewī Order.
Konya’s Mevlana Mausoleum and Museum
Apart from the whirling dervish, the other main attraction in Konya is the final resting place of Mevlana. In a way, you can’t appreciate the Sama ceremony without also visiting Mevlana’s Mausoleum.
It started as a dervish lodge and had been that until 1926 when Ataturk ordered that it be turned into a museum, part of his reforms to detach religion from state affairs.
Inside it isn’t a typical museum, although it provides enough information to give you some overview of the Mevlevi Order and its practices.
The one that stuck with me was that a dervish had to go through 1001 days of suffering (meaning studying the religious practices, dances, rituals, ethics, music, and poetry among other things) and is only then given a cell and the title “Dede”.
He would then not leave the cell for 3 days and after that do 18 services for the Order such as shopping, running errands, and lamp-keeping. Only then does he become hücrenişîn, a full member of the order.
The museum’s center of tourism gravity is the mausoleum. Upon entering one sees a row of coffins ornamented in the most beautiful ways.
Most people are concentrated at the end of the corridor where Mevlana/Rumi’s tomb is. It’s an art masterpiece in itself and being a religious pilgrimage site only adds to its glory.
The Mevlana Mausoleum receives many pilgrims and domestic tourists throughout the year. It’s believed that praying to Mevlana’s tomb will bring prosperity and luck.
Shall you decide to visit Konya, make sure to be there on Saturday for the Whirling Dervish Sama Ceremony and try to visit the Mevlana Museum in the morning before that.
Where next? What about Gaziantep, the culinary capital of Turkey? It was decimated in the 2023 Earthquake but is trying to rebuild to its former glory.