Whirling Dervishes of Beyoğlu, Istanbul

At the heart of Istanbul’s smart Beyoglu district is Galata Mevlevi House. Built in 1491, it was the city’s first Sufi Dervish house and dervishes still practice their whirling here today. Sufism has been defined “Islamic mysticism” and “the inward dimension of Islam” and dates back to early Islamic history, around about the 8th century.

The practice of whirling came late and originates from the teachings of the 13th-century Persian poet, Islamic theologian and Sufi mystic, Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumi.

Whirling is a form of physically active meditation and produces an ecstatic state in the Dervish allowing them to be or feel closer to God. Through whirling, dervishes ‘turn towards truth, grow through love, desert their egos and arrive at the perfect. They then return from this spiritual journey better able to love and be of service to the whole of creation.’

The tall rough wooden hats they wear represent the tombstone of the dervish’s ego, and the white cloak, his ego’s shroud.

This was the third whirling dervish performance I have witnessed and it was no less mesmerising than the others (one in Cairo and the other on the outskirts of Istanbul).

Whilst this dervish house is more tourist-focused than the others, the setting – as you can see from the photos – is stunningly beautiful. It is well worth a visit.

The performance begins with chanting from the gallery
Then the dervish start their whirling
One of the Dervishes deep in a meditative state
One of the Dervishes deep in a meditative state
The Dervishes hat represents the tombstone of his ego
The setting at this Dervish house is particularly elegant
The Dervishes white cloak represents his ego’s shroud
One of the senior Dervishes (in the black gown) checks and corrects the form of those whirling
The most senior Dervish offers prayers as the ceremony comes to an end
And then leaves the performance area
The most senior Dervish is then followed by the others in order of their seniority
The Dervishes bow toward the Mihrab – the direction of Mecca – before departing at the end of the performance
Watch a video of the performance with some slo-motion around the halfway mark