Whilst traveling through Turkey, one cannot help but be constantly exposed to images of the Whirling Deverishs. Established as one of Turkey's key tourist highlights, the image of a Deverish is pasted on everything from keychains to exquisite calligraphic pieces of art. Numerous restaurants tempt their dinner guests with a resident Deverish and guidebooks promise a whirling ceremony at the main railway station for the benefit of hundreds of camera laden tourists. But for a completely different experience, for witnessing what the Whirling Deverish ceremony is really all about, I would urge you to attend a proper Sema ceremony.
After doing some research, I found a local organisation that organised visits to a monastery on the outskirts of the city, to witness such a ceremony once a week.
For more than seven centuries the Mevlevi Order has held the light of the religion of love, offering spiritual refuge and enlightenment for those who wished to develop their human-ness to the highest level. In Ottoman times the Mevlevi Order cultivated not only spiritual attainment but cultural and artistic excellence as well. Mevlevis have always been progressive and liberal in spirit while at the same time conserving the best of tradition.
The ceremony started with a religious discussion. Once this was done, the atmosphere seemed to change. Suddenly the lead priest started chanting the name of Allah. In one voice the entire congregation joint him, accompanied by the haunting sounds of a reed pipe and drums. The chant seamlessly morphed into a beat for a beautiful song. I can only describe this as one of the most poignant displays of faith I have ever seen. As the chanting came to an end, the floor was cleared. Music heralded the entrance of the Deverishes.
They were led by the semazenbashi, who stood at his "head of the room". It is the highest spiritual position, marked by a red rug indicating the direction of Mecca. The dervishes took their places to his left with heads bowed. Then began the procession of the semazens around the master. It is the salutation of one soul to another, acknowledged by bowing.
Then begins the Sema ritual itself. They stepped forward, arms crossed in front of their chest. Raising their arms, holding their right palm upward toward heaven and their left palm downward toward
earth, they gradually started whirling. With utter contentment on their faces, they turn, one with the music, one with God. As they enter a higher level of being, one can truly feel the warmth of love and devotion flowing from the Devereshes.
This experience remains one of my most memorable in Istanbul. An evening shared with some of the most friendly and respectful people. Smiles. Love. Unity. Devotion.