Sunday, October 28, 2012

Konya -- Home of the Whirling Dervishes

Saturday, October 20, 2012  
Day 2 of our 6-day tour
As always, click on any image for larger view.

This tour followed a schedule that fit me to a "T" because each morning we departed the hotel at 09:00.  This allowed for leisurely coffee and breakfast.  I think all the tour participants were delighted not to have to get up at 06:00 to hurriedly pack and rush off.  We very much enjoyed this leisurely pace.

Day 2 started with a 4-hour drive to Konya -- home of the Whirling Dervishes.  I am not sure that I can really explain the Whirling Dervishes, but here goes.  I am leaving out a lot.

As I hope everyone knows by now, there are several different forms of Islam.  The Sunni and Shia are the 2 most well known, but there are numerous other different practices of Islam.  One of those is the Sufi order.  Some people consider the Sufis to be a cult; some consider them to be a sect of Islam; some consider them mystics.  The Mevlevi order ( Mawlaw'īyya ) is a Sufi order founded in Konya (in present-day Turkey) by the followers of Muhammad Rumi ( Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi-Rumi ), a 13th -century Persian who was a poet, Islamic jurist and theologian.  These followers are also known as the Whirling Dervishes.  Rumi, BTW, wrote more than 12,000 volumes of poems during his lifetime.  There are other orders of Sufism but this tour focused only on the Mevlevi order, the Order of the Whirling Dervishes.
Whirling Dervishes we saw on Turkish Night

The dervishes perform a 'dance' of whirling as a form of dhikr or remembrance of God.  This is called the Sama or Sema ceremony and the participants are properly known as semazen-s, but commonly called Whirling Dervishes.  The Sema represents a mystical journey of man's spiritual ascent through the mind and love to the "Perfect".  Turning towards the truth, the follower grows through love.  He deserts his ego; finds the truth; and arrives at the "Perfect".  Then he returns from this spiritual journal as a man who has reached maturity and a greater perfection; thus able to love and to be of service to the whole of creation.  In 2005, UNESCO proclaimed the Melvi Sema Ceremony of Turkey to be one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

The Mevlevi order was founded in 1273 by Rumi's followers after his death,  particularly by his successor Husamettin Celebi who built a mausoleum for Rumi and Rumi's son, the Sultan Veled.  Celibi was a Sufi mystic with good organizing skills.  We visited the shrine of Rumi and his son in Konya.  Photos were allowed outside the mausoleum but were prohibited inside the shrine.  The interior was beautiful!  The ceilings were painted in such beautiful patterns and colors.  Shame no photos are allowed in there. 

Per the websites I checked:  The origin and roots of Sufism lie in the life and practices of the Prophet of Islam and the Qu'ran.  Sufism espouses a well-founded and thorough interpretation of Islam which focuses on love, tolerance, worship of God, community development, and personal development through self-discipline and responsibility.  A Sufi's way of life is to love and be of service to people, deserting the ego or false self and all illusion so that one can reach maturity and 'perfection' and finally reach Allah, God.  

The sema or ritual dance consists of several stages with different meanings.  The first stage is a eulogy to the Messenger of Islam and all the Prophets before him, all of whom represent love. (This includes Jesus and Moses and Abraham, etc.)  This eulogy is followed by a drumbeat symbolizing the divine command "Be" for the creation of the entire universe.

This followed by an improvisation on a reed flute.  This expresses the divine breath, which gives life to everything.

Then follows the Sultan Veled procession, accompanied by simple music.  The participants walk in an anti-clockwise circle, proceeding 3 times around the turning space.  At the completion of each circle, each participant bows to the other.  These bowed greetings represent the 3 stages of knowledge: 1) received knowledge, gained from others or through study; 2) knowledge gained by seeing or observing for oneself; and 3) knowledge gained through direct experience.  

Contrary to popular belief the semazen's goal is not to lose consciousness or to fall into a state of ecstasy.  Instead, by revolving in harmony with all things in nature, the semazen testifies to the existence and the majesty of the Creator, thinks of Him, gives thanks to Him, and prays to Him.  By the revolving ritual, the semazen confirms the words of the Qur'an (sura 64:1):  Whatever is in the skies or on earth invokes God.

The semazen begins the sema ritual (dance) wearing a black cloak and entering a darkened room.  After the beating of the drum and the flute sounds, the black cloak is removed revealing a starkly white long-sleeved garment and an ankle length full skirt.  The semazen wears a tall camel's hair hat called a sikke.  The darkness is then lightened somewhat to a low-light level like candlelight, not brightly lit.  

The sikke hat represents the tombstone of his ego.  The wide white skirt represents the ego's shroud.  By removing his black cloak, he is spiritually reborn to truth.  At the beginning of the sema he holds his arms crosswise.  Thus, he appears to represent the number one, testifying to God's unity.  While whirling, his arms are open; his right arm is directed to the sky, ready to receive God's beneficence.  His left hand, upon which his eyes remain fastened, is turned toward the earth.   This is symbolic of bringing God or Allah to the creatures on the earth. Revolving from right to left he embraces all humanity with love.  Rumi had taught:  "All loves are a bridge to Divine love."

Tolerance is central to Mevlevi teachings, as shown in this famous verse:
Come, whoever you may be,
Even if you may be
An infidel, a pagan, or a fire-worshipper, come.
Ours is not a brotherhood of despair.
Even if you have broken
Your vows of repentance a hundred times, 

(Having been raised in the Baptist religion, that sounds so very much to me like the minister at the close of Sunday services inviting all sinners to come to the front of the church to repent of sins, inviting sinners to repent and be baptized and born again.  The message is the same:  regardless of your sins, come and be saved in the eyes of God.)
Our group at a comfort stop

Shortly after Ataturk formed the new government of Turkey, he banned the Mevlevi Sufis in 1925 because he considered them to be mystics.  Ataturk saw them as an obstacle to advancement for the Turkish people.  But several orders survived on a technicality as religious fraternities (like the Masons?).  The Konya lodge was revived in 1957 as a "cultural association" intended to preserve a historical tradition.

Our group at a comfort stop

We would have the opportunity to see a demonstration of the Whirling Dervishes during Turkish Night at a restaurant a few days later.
Pretty comfort stop en route to Konya

Our group seated on floor cushions for lunch
When we arrived in Konya we first ate lunch in a traditional Turkish restaurant, all seated on cushions on the floor at a long low table.  The meal consisted of the usual pepper spread with bread (too hot for some people in our group, but delicious to me), salad, pide and baklava for dessert.  Pide (pronounced PEE-day) is simple Turkish pizza.  It is oblong with the sides curved up and over the top edge.  It sometimes has cheese and sometimes does not.  There is no tomato pizza sauce.  It is quiet bland.  I like foods with more spice and prefer American style pizza, but pide is okay.  The restaurant staff spoke no English, so our guide translated for us.  
Pide lunch in Konya

They offered a local drink of fermented grape juice and several of us opted to try it.  Bad mistake!  This stuff was disgustingly salty and bitter.  Turned out that there was a mistake and we were served fermented beet juice with wheat instead of the grape juice.  I cannot imagine anyone willingly drinking that ultra-salty stuff!!  Enough sodium to raise blood pressure to stroke levels.

Entry door to Rumi's shrine
 Konya is the Turkish equivalent to America's Bible Belt.  More women are seen covered than anywhere else in Turkey.  Alcohol beverages are almost impossible to find in stores and never sold in restaurants.  The people are not extremists but they do take their practice of Islam very seriously.  To quote the Lonely Planet guidebook:  "Konya treads a delicate path between its historical significance as the home town of the whirling dervish orders and a bastion of Seljuk culture on the one hand, and its modern importance as an economic boom town on the other."

The exit door from Rumi's shrine
Next we visited the shrine for Rumi and his son.  There were lots of people visiting the shrine; very few were foreign tourists.  Most people appeared to be Turkish or of Middle-Eastern heritage.  People watching was good here.  Bill and I were more interested in watching the people than the buildings around the shrine area.  BTW, the mausoleum/shrine had a green minaret so I guess it used to be a mosque.

The green fluted minaret at the shrine for Rumi

Rumi shrine complex

For Muslims, this is a very holy place.  More than 1.5 million people visit the shrine each year, most of them Turkish.  The guidebook states that women should cover their heads and arms and that anyone wearing shorts should not enter.  Our guide said that covering was not needed for women because this is not a mosque, only a shrine.  Most of the women in our group did cover their heads, although only 1 woman also covered her arms.  I did not cover either.  The security guards didn't stop me so I guess our guide was correct.  Several of the men in our tour group were wearing shorts and even they were allowed inside the shrine.  That actually surprised me.

Ablution center for Rumi's shrine

The domes of the shrine and the nearby mosque are fitted with turquoise tiles.  Supposedly, these tiles are very valuable -- about $40,000 for a tile by today's valuations.  BTW, the word turquoise originated in Turkey.  It is a French word for this color that they first encountered when arriving in Turkey centuries ago.  

The old Ottoman mosque that was closed
for renovations

Then we walked over to an old Ottoman mosque, but it was closed for renovations.  I think the name for this mosque was Alaaddin Camil.  It was built for Alaaddin Keykubad I, Sultan of Rum from 1219 to 1231; and was designed by a Damascene architect in Arab style.  The interior has old marble columns surmounted with recycled Roman and Byzantine capitals.  That was a glitch in the tour.  The guide had not known the mosque was closed for renovation.  Frankly, we did not care.  We have seen enough mosques.  This big one with the green trim might have been pretty but we didn't feel that we had missed anything.  

Another 3 hours of driving delivered us to Nevsehir, where we checked into the Peri Tower Hotel, our home for the next 3 nights.  Peri Tower Hotel  Our room overlooked the pool.  Even had a couple of TV channels in English -- BBC and Central China TV (whoa!  talk about propaganda!).  The architect for this hotel must have been on drugs when he conceived this design.  There are towers in various places and the hotel is built into a small hill; so, for example, floor 2 on one side is different from floor 2 on the other side of the hotel.  And walkways slope between several floors.  It would be easy to get lost if you got into the elevator on the wrong side of the hotel lobby or bar levels.  Floor 4A is a different level than Floor 4B.  A drunk would never be able to navigate this hotel.

Dinners and breakfasts are included in this tour, and we were grateful that dinner was served in the hotel restaurant as we were tired from the driving and looked forward to a restful night.  

Tomorrow would be exploring Cappadocia!

1 comment:

  1. I've never heard of the Whirling Dervishes ... until now! Thanks for sharing this, as I love learning about other beliefs. Sounds like a great day!


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