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How I Learned to Whirl Like a Dervish

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As much as I enjoyed the spectacle and Rumi-obsessed Whirling Dervish festival in Konya, going to a Dervish ceremony in a yellow-colored caravansary, Saruhan ( -- that's not a typo) in the desert just 15 minutes from my Cappodocia hotel was the highlight of my whole trip.

You’re escorted to the inner sanctum and, unlike the 24-man orchestra and 28-man whirling brigade at the Mevlana festival, this is a more intimate affair with just 4 playing music and 5 whirling Semazens with the Semazen Basi (the leader) Abdurrahman Abukan overseeing the ritual. Plus, no photos. during the ceremony. This liberated me to just experience the moment of what was happening just 15 feet in front of me. As my guide told me, “What we saw in Konya was entertainment, what we’re seeing here is transcendence.”

I was afforded the rare opportunity to receive a whirling dervish lesson from a master. First, he instructed me on what it takes to become a Semazen: 3-6 months of physical training and 40 years of spiritual training. He told me that not everyone is cut out for whirling as it only works “if Allah allows.” He trained me in the footwork and we started to whirl, but within a minute I felt the need to hurl. He said the key to not getting dizzy is to keep a balanced spirit and mind focused on the divine.

Before we left, he showed me the final act of a Semazen. We clasped hands and he kissed the back of my hand as I kissed his. We now were bonded as dervishes.

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by Chip Conley
Festival Correspondent
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