I practiced Dervish Whirling
for a few years, though I now think it a rather
thing to do. It looks much more difficult and impressive (especially if
the traditional robes are worn) than it actually is. With practice, you can
learn how to balance the dizziness
for an hour or more without ill
effect. Someone accomplished in Dervish Whirling
can move at high speed,
navigating around other people, while circling through a very large space.
While spinning, the right arm is raised, the hand palm-up; the left arm is
lowered, palm-down. This helps one to maintain balance. But in a religious
context (which I was never much interested in) it has additional meanings –
one being that the power of the heaven
s enters through the upturned right
hand and is conducted through the body into the lowered left hand and into
Dervish literally means “doorway”. The ceremony of whirling is attributed to
Jala ad-Din ar-Rumi, better known as Mevlana (Lord in Arabic), who lived in
the 13th century. It is a ritual of the Mevlevi sect, known as the sema,
performed by Muslim priests. During the ceremony, the dervishes remove black
cloaks to reveal the tennure (white religious robes with voluminous skirts).
They turn around their own axis and around other dervishes, making small,
controlled movements of hands, head and arms as they whirl. They are
accompanied by music, often dominated by the haunting sound of the reed pipe
or "ney", as well as drums and chanting as the ritual gradually transforms
itself into rapid spinning.
Whirling Dervishes had a significant influence in the evolution of Ottoman
high culture. From the fourteenth to the twentieth century, their impact on
classical poetry, calligraphy and the visual arts was profound. Perhaps
their greatest achievement was in the area of music. Since the dogmatists of
Islam's orthodoxy opposed music, claiming it was harmful to the listener and
detrimental to religious life, no sacred music or mosque music evolved
except for the Mevlud, a poem in praise of the Prophet, chanted on high
occasions or as a requiem.
I recently met someone who had studied Dervish Whirling with a group of people in London. Apparently, they bang a large nail into the floor, have the student place the right foot such that the nail is between the big toe and second toe, and then have them spin around the nail, using the left foot to propel themselves. The idea is to overcome pain through concentration.
Great! If you pass that test, you get to spin around a room with a sore foot. And you're paying them for the privilege.