KONYA from Turkey
Each year, thousands of people flock to the Turkish city of Konya to witness a series of weeklong events and ceremonies that mark the death of 13th-century Islamic poet, Sufi scholar and mystic Jalaladdin Rumi.
Instead of mourning her death, however, the ceremonies celebrate what her followers believe to be her union with God.
The main feature of “Sheb-i Arus” or “Night of Union” is an enchanting ritual performed by the dervishes of the Mevlevi order, more commonly known as whirling dervishes.
The rite begins with a recital of prayers and verses from the Koran. The dervishes, dressed in long white robes symbolizing shrouds, black capes symbolizing tombs and long headgear symbolizing tombstones, then rise from the ground to greet each other.
Leaving their coats on the floor, they take their places around the circular floor and begin to rotate to achieve a trance state which they believe unites them to God. The ritual is performed to the sound of song and music from a reed flute and other instruments.
As they swirl, the right hands of the dervishes are symbolically turned upward toward God, while their left hands are turned downward toward the Earth.
The ceremony ends as it began, with the recital of prayers.
Rumi, known as Mevlana in Turkey, was born in Balkh – which is now in Afghanistan – in 1207, but settled in Konya, where he died on December 17, 1273. His son, Sultan Veled, a created the Mevlevi Order from the mystical form of Islam, Sufism, after his death.
Although religious orders were banned in Turkey in the early 1920s with the establishment of the secular republic, dervish rituals were considered a cultural heritage and order was widely tolerated. There are now many orders of Sufi dervishes around the world, including the United States. Women have been allowed to join some lodges, although an overwhelming number of dervishes are men.
In 2005, the United Nations cultural body, UNESCO, proclaimed the ritual of the dervishes a masterpiece of the “oral and intangible heritage of humanity”.
The structure containing Rumi’s tomb in Konya is now a museum as well as a place of pilgrimage.
This year, visitors were able to return to ceremonies in honor of Rumi, after the coronavirus pandemic forced last year’s commemorations to take place without spectators.
A visitor from the United States, Rupert Flowers, told state agency Anadolu that he traveled to Konya, inspired by Rumi’s best-known and most welcoming quatrain:
“Come on! Repeat! Whoever it is, whatever you are, come!
“Pagan, idolater or fire worshiper, come!
“Even if you renounce your oaths a hundred times, come!
“Our door is the door of hope, come! Come as you are! “