Rumi was born in Afghanistan, spent time in Persia (Iran), then settled in Konya, Turkey when his father was invited there to be a scholar. Rumi became an Islamic scholar himself teaching peace, love, and tolerance. He built quite a following of the educated – who saw him as a wise philosopher – and uneducated – who saw him as a prophet.
Rumi’s life changed when he created an intense friendship with an older, wandering mystic -- Shams of Tabriz. Shams was a brilliant outcast and Rumi was deeply drawn to a learning relationship with this man who was ultimately supposedly killed by some of Rumi’s fans due to the influence he was having on the younger Rumi. From this tragedy, Rumi found a deep well inside himself filled with an ability to channel poetry. It was about this time that he also introduced the experience of divine harmony that comes from whirling. Thus, a new form of religious ecstasy was created and the Whirling Dervishes (also known as the Mevlevi order) have been doing this annual ceremony marking Rumi’s death for almost 750 years.
This is the start of the Sema (ceremony) with each Semazen (dancer) bowing upon arriving on stage and the Basi (the leader) at the “head of the class.” The mesmerizing ceremony represents man’s journey to the oneness of perfect truth – amidst separation and longing - through the power of divine love. In 2005, UNESCO proclaimed the “Mevlevi Sema Ceremony” as amongst the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
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My Favorite Travel Agent in Turkey
You don’t have to come to Konya in the middle of December to see a Whirling Dervish ceremony as they have Saturday evening presentations year-round at the Mevlana Cultural Center (Rumi is also known as Mevlana, “our master”). I was able to get a guide and tickets through a well-run Turkish travel agency named Dos Plumas Travel (www.gotourturkey.com) that’s owned by a an expat Texan.
The advantage of coming during the annual festival is there's lots of pomp and circumstance associated with Rumi during that particular ten-day period, including vendors selling all kinds of Rumi tchotchkes. Note: prices for hotel rooms jump 50% during this time and it’s a pretty punishing time of year weather-wise (cold and the potential for snow).
Rumi wrote, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing, there is a field. I will meet you there.” So, don’t be paralyzed by deciding when to go, just go, as it’s such a sublime experience – visually and spiritually. Here, the Semazen prepare for the whirl, doing the initial circle walk (know as the “Devri Veledi”) which the Basi leads as they circle each other three times and give selams (greetings), accompanied by a sweet musical prelude. Before this is a eulogy to the Prophet, the striking of the kudum (drum) which represents the creation of the universe, and the lyrical ney taksim (sound of a reed flute which represents the Divine Breath).