Witnessing the Hypnotic Dance of the Whirling Dervishes

Delna Shobi

April 5, 2024

4 min read

The regions in and around Turkey are famous for a particular dance style that originated in the 13th century by an Islamic theologian Poet. In those days, these dances were played only by Men of a specific community. This article from Thirllark aggregates all the information about the hypnotic dance of Whirling Dervishes.

Origin of Whirling Dervishes

A 750 years ago, Persia-born Sufi Muslim mystic and poet Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi started Whirling Dervishes as a form of Meditation to achieve a spiritually divine state. In 1312, when Rumi was living in Konya, he wanted some form of art for the soul to obtain awareness and loosen the material self. It is how Whirling Dervishes originated.

The Mevlevi Order was formed in the Turkish city and spread across nearby towns. In those days, the community headed by Rumi’s son, Sultan Walad, established 100+ monasteries throughout the Ottoman Empire, Belgrade, Athens, Mecca, Baghdad and Tabriz.

The Whirling later became a ceremony in which many trained dancers from these communities participated. It was called the Sema. In traditional Whirling groups, only men were allowed to dance in public Sema. Women can participate only in private Sema.

The Training

To become a trained Whirl dancer and participate in the Sema Ceremony, Sufis should attend a 1000-day training program within the Mevlevi community houses. The reason for such intense training is that they should be capable of rotating for up to an hour without vertigo or dizziness. Every test is very crucial during the training period. The trained performers are called Turners or Dervishes. Every group will contain around twenty-five members. The ages of the dancers vary from eight to ninety.

The Whirling Attire

Men and women wear almost the same attire, but men get dressed in the traditional white robes and skirts called the Tenure. Women wear colourful [Red, Green or Pink] robes and skirts. The Semazen Camel’s hair hat that dervishes wear is called a Sikke. Simultaneously, the dervishes whirl like spinning tops for nearly an hour, their long robes floating knee-high around them. The cities of Turkey have many shopping centres. Book your vacation with Thrillark.


The dancers performing in Sema fast for many hours before the ceremony. They use their left foot to propel their bodies around the right foot with their eyes open and start to turn in rhythmic patterns. The Whirl is complete only when soothing music is combined. The traditional music team will consist of a singer, a flautist, a kettle drummer and a cymbal player. The dancers turn so swiftly that the skirts of their robes rise automatically, forming circular cones. The research found that the edges of swiftly spinning skirts experience four times the accelerations of Earth’s gravity.

Structure of Sema

A solo singer offers a Panegyric to the Prophet Muhammad. The Sema begins with this Panegyric. The Dervish starts Whirling. When the rhythm of the music intensifies, one can witness the Hypnotic Dance of the Whirling Dervishes. During the Whirl, the Four Salams or Selams reflect the main activity of the ceremony.

  • The First Salam is for human beings to understand the birth of Truth.
  • The second Salam represents the rapture of the humans.
  • The third Salam is to mutate rapture into love and understand Unity.
  • The fourth Salam is to accept ourselves as a servant of God.

The sema ends with a Quranic recitation and gentle music from a reed flute, personifying the Divine breath that gives life to everything.

Symbolisms of Sema

  • The Semazen Camel’s hair hat symbolizes the headstone of the ego.
  • The white Skirt symbolizes the shroud of the ego.
  • Dervish removing the black cloak represents the spiritually reborn moment.
  • Crosswise holding of Dervish’s arms represents God’s unity.
  • While whirling, the Dervish’s arms are open, and his right-hand faces the sky. This illustrates the Dervish’s readiness to receive God’s blessings.
  • The left hand pointing to the Sema typifies Dervish’s heartfelt willingness to convey the gift he has received from the Lord.

Revolving from Right to Left stands for the Dervish embracing humaneness. Generally, Sufis believe that love created every creature, and the purpose of creation is to spread love.

The Fall and Rise of Whirling

All the performers of Whirling in Sema are Mevlevis, members of any Muslim order or Sufi founded by Rumi (The Mystic Congregation). Due to secularization, the Republic of Turkey, under the presidency of Kemal Ataturk, stopped this Whirling Dervish.

Later, towards the end of the 20th century, the Republic of Turkey reapproved this Whirling Dervish ceremony with a few enhancements as it is their cultural asset. The people of Konya treat Rumi’s death anniversary as a nine-day annual festival. Dancers began to perform on these days. To develop and improve Tourism, the Republic of Turkey permitted a few private Whirling ceremonies across Anatolia and Istanbul.

Despite all these political situations, Whirling Dervishes has preserved their 750-year-old art. A wide variety of people learn this art with interest, dedication and involvement.

Benefits of Whirling

  • Whirling improves perseverance
  • One must have high determination to swirl for an hour continuously.
  • Whirling helps in more focus and improves concentration.
  • More than other dance forms, this needs a lot of focus and concentration.
  • Creates an awareness about the postures and our body
  • This dance will create awareness of even a small part of the body.
  • Improves the body postures
  • Our body’s posture is vital for this dance, and when body posture is improved, one can lead a happy life.
  • Whirl helps in understanding the limitations of our body.
  • All our bodies will have some limitations. This art can bring them out to the forum.
  • Dance helps in achieving inner calmness.
  • The concentration in the dance helps you in achieving inner calmness.
  • Whirling helps in avoiding distractions.
  • Focus and dedication help you in avoiding distractions.
  • It helps in improving breathing techniques.
  • Conscious breathing techniques will help you to regulate your energy. A good breathing technique can help you to improve yourself.

Who can become a Whirl dancer?

People with the below qualities can become Whirl dancers.

  • Love
  • Dedication and Devotion
  • Sincerity
  • Compassion
  • Patience
  • Detachment
  • Open-minded
  • Integrity

Other key factors are required for a person to become a Whirl dancer.

Things to take care of while witnessing the Whirling Dance

  • Most of this ceremony takes place in some mosques. Hence, to enter a Mosque, a few dress codes need to be followed by the visitors.
  • Visitors should wear long-sleeved tops, long pants or full-flowing skirts.
  • Visitors should remove their footwear outside the Mosque.
  • Photography and Videography are permitted within the premises but without flashlights.
  • Carrying any photo ID and some cash will help the visitors.

Thoughts from Thrillark

Leaving behind the religion linked to this art form, the Whirling Dance of Dervishes has become one of the major tourist attractions. The authentic Sufi Sema ceremony is organized only in a few places, whereas Sema ceremonies organized for commercial purposes are increasing throughout the region. The tourists are far more interested in learning and playing the Whirling dance than witnessing authenticity. The influence that this dance created is far beyond the boundaries. Dancers feel that learning this form of dance is helping them in various ways. Why and what are you waiting for? Thrillark is here to curate a beautiful itinerary for you and your loved ones to the land of the Ottoman Empire, where you can witness the Hypnotic dance of Whirling Dervishes.

Delna Shobi

Weaving worlds with words, where imagination blooms and stories take flight.

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    2801, Mazata Business Avenue BB2,
    Plot No: JLTE-PH2-BB2,
    jumeirah Lakes Towers,
    Dubai, UAE

    Thrillark, Crafted with in Dubai

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