religious ceremony

basic introduction to the whirling dervishes

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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!