basic introduction to the whirling dervishes

Posted on

We need to embarrassingly confess two things:

Firstly, we had no idea what whirling dervishes were before going to Turkey.

Secondly, when we were asked if we were interested to attend one while we were in Pamukkale, Turkey. We said yes thinking that it would be an evening of entertainment because the word “whirling” conjures up images of dancing and spinning around. So we were right about the spinning but not right about anything else.


This is what we learnt during the course of the evening:

  • It is known as a Sema ceremony
  • It is part of Turkish custom, history, beliefs and culture
  • It is a religious ceremony symbolising the journey of man through mind and love to perfection
  • There are 7 parts of the ceremony:
    • A eulogy to Muhammad, the Prophet, and to all the Prophets before him – to praise them is to praise God
    • Drums symbolising the Divine order of the Creator
    • Instrumental music with a “ney” – a reed wind instrument. This represents The Divine Breath – the first breath that gave everything life
    • The dervishes greet one another and perform their circular walk three times
    • The dervishes whirl in a circular formation and repeat this “salute” four times. They whirl with their arms open with their right hands directed towards the sky, ready to receive God’s beneficence. They turn their left hands towards the earth and spin from right to left. This is the Sema part
    • A reading from the Quran
    • A prayer for peace of the souls of all Prophet and believers.


Being a religious ceremony, it is respectful not to take photographs during the cermony. The photos we took were after the ceremony when the dervishes performed specifically for photos.


Attending a whirling dervish ceremony is not for everyone.  We do recommend that it is worth understanding the purpose before experiencing the holy ceremony. It will help with a greater appreciation for what is being performed. Be aware that the ceremony takes approximately 60 minutes and most of it is performed with little lighting.

We certainly enjoyed the opportunity to witness the ceremony and found it quite mesmerising, peaceful and spiritual. Watching the dervishes the entire time made us dizzy occasionally –  closing our eyes and just listening to the music was enchanting in itself.  The music accompanying the ceremony was ever so soothing for the soul!


8 thoughts on “basic introduction to the whirling dervishes

    Shelley @Travel-Stained said:
    March 17, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    I’d dreamt about seeing the whirling dervishes, ever since seeing them in the film, Baraka, and we finally got to see them in Konya (where Rumi’s shrine is). It was so beautiful, I cried.

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      March 17, 2014 at 2:18 pm

      Oh we never saw Baraka – that’s the same people that did Samsara, right? We saw that one 🙂
      The whirling dervishes was a really peaceful and mesmerising experience! We felt so calm and touched after watching it.

        Shelley @Travel-Stained said:
        March 18, 2014 at 2:38 pm

        Yeah, Baraka is the first one they did, and I actually think it’s much better than Samsara. Give it a watch if you can! 🙂

          wisemonkeysabroad responded:
          March 18, 2014 at 5:08 pm

          Ok cool – will definitely try and watch that sometime!

    Savvy Kenya (@savvykenya) said:
    February 26, 2014 at 10:10 pm

    I also had no idea what whirling dervishes were before this post 🙂

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      February 27, 2014 at 6:20 am

      Thanks for reading! Hope you found it a good basic introduction 🙂

    MiaMusings said:
    February 25, 2014 at 8:06 pm

    In India, Sufis (a religious sect) also perform the same usually at sufi dargahs (shrines built over a grave). Sufi music has become so popular now that sufi music festivals are organised in new delhi etc and these dervishes perform. Its actually mesmerising.

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      February 25, 2014 at 8:11 pm

      Wow! That’s so fascinating to know. The music is so soothing and relaxing. It’s incredible watching them spin and then come to a sudden halt without swaying. It made us dizzy just watching them – but was truly mesmerising. We will have to read more about Sufis.
      Thank you so much for reading and letting us know 🙂

leave us a comment...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s