While living in Istanbul, we felt that there were certain obviously required things that must be experienced while we had the opportunity.
What visit to Turkey would be complete without a firsthand sampling of Turkish coffee, Turkish delight, Turkish baths, and the Whirling Dervish. Searching through google for a way to see the Whirling Dervish, we discovered a woman’s story that told of a more authentic experience. It was a real ceremony as opposed to the more tourist targeted Whirling Dervish dance shows with the lasers and lights. Those shows look entertaining enough, but we wanted something different, something authentic.
Joining up with a small group of similarly curious people, we headed to the old walls that surround the original site where Constantinople was born.
After many name changes and thousands of years of history, the old original city walls still stand. Every inch of the space inside the walls are filled with homes as well as the Silivrikapi Monastery we visited to see a traditional Whirling Dervish ceremony.
We followed the lead of the other attendee’s and left our shoes on a rack set up by the front door before entering.
Then we were escorted to a front corner of the room where observers could get the full experience without interrupting the interactions of the gathering. The night started with everyone seated together casually around the elders. Locals would ask questions to the elders and they would respond. It was an incredibly heart-warming display of community. This was a true gathering of families that respected and learned from their elders. Life lessons, knowledge from first hand experiences, and ideas that couldn’t be learned in a classroom were passed on to the younger generations as we watched.
After discussing many topics, they prayed together for a while.
The musicians played during some of the prayer and one young man stood and performed the whirling dance that we had come to see by himself. Afterward, refreshments were served while the band and semazens (whirlers) prepared for the ceremony. The dance itself is also called sema and has been around since the 13th century. The belief is that the semazens can enter into a trance like state through the sema, in order to become closer to Allah. It was historically only performed by men but the Mevlevi Church we visited had a more enlightened view.
The story we were told was that a group of women asked the head elder for permission to dance the sema.
He said that he would only consider it if they proved their skill with a test and show of their proficiency. After their performance, it is said that he was so impressed, that from that point on, the women of that church were allowed to dance the sema alongside the men.
We felt truly honored for the chance to witness this ceremony.
It felt like stepping back in time to a simpler way of life when communities were structured on generational wisdom being passed down. It was the most respectful gathering and exchange of ideas that we’ve ever witnessed, from the youngest child to the oldest elder. And even as observers from outside of the community, we were made to feel welcome. We will always be grateful to have been given the chance to be a part of something centuries old. It was exactly the kind of experience we hope for as travelers hoping to expand our view of the world.
Idea: During this Monastery visit & Dervish Ceremony; you will see the story of Sufism, Sufis and their communities in Istanbul, Turkey, today. You will meet the Sufi community and their monastery, listen to their music, eye-witness the Whirling Dervishes Ceremony. The ceremonies are presented every Monday and Thursday.