“When I am silent, I fall into that place where everything is music.
dance with fervor
dance like a dervish,
enjoy the mystique
unravel the mystery,
seek the moor,
anchor your ship,
feel the emptiness of a gushing wind,
feel the gentle caress of the Zephyr,
seek the treasure trove of love,
seek the inner divine
dance with fervor
dance like a dervish
My first brush with whirling dervishes was with the movie, ‘Khwaja Mera Khwaja’ from the movie, ‘Jodha Akbar’. I was in a trance, I listened to the song on loop, the wordings and the music still reverberate in my ears as I am writing this. My curiosity was piqued, I had to find out the origin of this dance, later I found out it was a ritual. The Whirling Dervishes trace their antecedents to the 13th century Ottoman Dynasty. They are associated with Mehlevi Order and are Sufi, a spiritual derivative of Islam.
I found the aura of watching a whirling dervish a profound experience- a Sufi saint dancing away in a timeless space with an oneness of the mind and body. It is said that the great poet Rumi also experienced the mystique of human life as he whirled, the whirling movement outside connected him with his inner core leading to enlightenment and liberation.
Sufi: a Muslim mystic. Thus a Sufi is a member of a Muslim group of people, who try to experience God directly especially by praying and meditating. The Sufi religion gave birth to this ritual, which is now promoted as a dance. The word has its origins from the Arabic word, ‘Suf’, meaning wool. Others trace its origins, back to the Greek word ‘Sophos’, meaning wisdom.
There are two versions of how this practice began:
- When Rumi was walking through the Goldsmith area, he heard the craftsmen hammering away; it struck a chord with his inner core and he began to turn in harmony.
- The second version is of a person spinning wool from a bale onto a spindle. The spinning movement was continuously from the right hand to the left hand to prevent the wool from breaking.
- While spinning one’s body in repetitive circles, it has been seen as a symbolic imitation of planets in the Solar System orbiting the sun.
In the formal Sema, whirling dervishes perform the ritual each year on the anniversary of Rumi’s death. Like any practice, whirling is an expression, a prayer, a plea, a joy, a gift and lastly a form of healing. As Rumi said, we turn to the center of the center of our own true selves. Whirling reminds and informs the body to find its center, polish the heart and find balance and align with the divine
On my trip to Turkey, to my delight, I found out that no visit to Cappadocia is complete without a dash of Sufi mysticism. I lived a wonderful spiritual experience in Sarhuan, it is an old caravansary, restored and converted into a center of Sufi mysticism, to gain insight into the ceremony of the Whirling Dervishes.
This is not only a show for tourists but a real contact with the sacred made accessible by dervishes with their magnetic movements accompanied by soul-sound … both hands, while rotating, they face one up to draw from the cosmos beauty and health, the other down to give humanity, the harmony so collected. During the ritual, which takes place in absolute silence and respect, one feels grabbed and dragged into a state of bliss.
They usually don’t allow to take pictures but tourists being tourists, they take are used to taking liberties, flouting a few rules here and there, my conscientious self-disallowed me to do so.
Thus whirling is a dance of ecstasy, the faster you spin it brings you closer and closer to bringing out your spiritual energies. The practice is an expression and a prayer taking you a step closer to joy, healing and finally to enlightenment by abandoning one’s nafs, egos or personal desires, by listening to the music, focusing on God, and merging with the divine.
It’s a ceremony of ecstasy. Whirling entrances them. They stop their mind while whirling, and they find a perfect balance point. This prolonged experience causes them to feel what their spirituality understands as divine. It’s a prayer in motion.
THE COMMERCIAL ASPECT
For seven centuries, the practice of spinning gained popularity across Cappadocia. It was banned in 1925 and had been banned ever since. Recently Turkey discovered that Dervishes aren’t bad for revenue generating tourism and hence Sufi mysticism has begun to thrive again, unofficially on the second and last Sunday of each month.The Sema at Whirling Dervish Hall is one of Istanbul’s hottest tickets. The first thing that strikes you is how earnestly and austerely, each Dervish whirls, it spreads like a zephyr, slowly caressing every participant, lulling you to sleep.
I was lucky enough to have two Sufi experiences on one trip.
Caveat : Read up before you attend a Sufi performance to understand it better.
THE BOLLYWOOD CONNECT
Bollywood, can never be far behind when it comes to looking for inspiration to spin its chartbusters. Adding its own unique touch by ‘Hindi’fication of the lyrics, romance replaces spiritual love; this is the way Bollywood has popularized Sufi music.
I read somewhere that the great Amir Khusro would be turning in his grave if he heard what passes for Sufi music in Bollywood. The original Sufi music is a far cry from what is passed off as Sufi music in our Hindi movies. Then Bollywood has its hands tied, ‘money makes the mare go’; commercialization is inevitable and unavoidable.
I would end this article by listing some of my favorite Sufi songs, which inspire me to Whirl like a Dervish, on a serious note enchant me –
- Khwaja Mere Khwaja from Jodha Akbar
- Kun Faya Kun from Rockstar
- Piya Haji Ali from Fiza
- Arziyaan from Delhi
Happy whirling, happy listening.