Project 365: Day 235 – The whirling dervishes of the Sema ceremony


21st February 2015 – Istanbul, Turkey

Like the moons around the sun, they whirl in their prayers.
With one hand touching the heaven, and the other, the ground.
The Semazens in white gowns and tall sikke hats, show us.
That even in outlawed religious groups, a rare gem is found.
sema, whirling dervishes, istanbul, turkey, travel, photography

Colorful. Ethereal. Magical. The Semazen are all these and more. – Sema ceremony in Istanbul, Turkey

I have mentioned before on this blog, that Baraka is one of my all-time favourite movies, and one of the movies that have inspired me to travel. And one of the epic scenes in Baraka, was the sema ceremony of the Mevlevis. 

Or as we know it, the whirling dervishes.
I have been longing to see this, since the time I came to Turkey. Because after all, the image of the whirling dervish was as iconic of Turkey, as the stilt fishermen were to Sri Lanka.
The Mevlevi order was founded in the Konya region, by followers of the poet Rumi. Rumi is a very popular Persian poet, even in India, and his follower practiced the whirling as a form of Dhikr, or prayer. The Mevlevis were very similar to another Dervish order called the Qadiri, which I knew very well because of a Qadiri friend I had in my college back in India. My plan was to travel to Konya, to see this ceremony, but snow and a lack of time, has seen my plans crumble.
So, I was pleasantly surprised when me and Aurelia saw a restaurant in Sultanahmet that had a live Sema ceremony. Of course, I am not tourist fool. I knew this would be a touristy affair, and that the price of 40 Lira for a show was overpriced. But lack of time left me no choice. I took the bait, and sat for the show, ordering only a tea in the overpriced restaurant that the show was being held. It was the best 40 lira I have spent on this trip!
The only mistakes that the Mevlevis did in their history, was to form a military regiment, and become involved in political affairs. They should have stuck to their prayers and ceremonies. Sadly, the Mevlana order is banned in Turkey now, but the Sema ceremony is still allowed, because of its touristic importance.
The world would be a lot less colourful, if the Sema was banned too.

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About Abhi Surendran

Abhi quit his corporate job, and decided to immerse himself in travels, photography, occasional periods of bankruptcy, and copious amounts of insanity. He is currently working on a book of his experiences, and a dream road trip through South Asia. Both in a haphazard fashion. He blogs at Iamnothome and you can also catch him at times on Facebook and twitter.

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