Sufi music… A deeply inspired performance of remembrance …composed sometimes between 1640 – 1711 AD by Buhurizade Itri. He was a follower of Mevlana Rumi. He was a prolific composer with hundreds of works. This is one of the main spiritual compositions frequently used at Turkish Sufi center gatherings. His real name was Mustafa (1640-1712), […]
Wherever You Turn: The Mevlevi Whirling Ceremony
By: Kabir Helminski
Although practices of whirling, especially among the peoples of Central Asia, have existed from time immemorial, it was the thirteenth-century Sufi saint and poet Jalaluddin Rumi and his lineage, the Mevlevi Order, who developed whirling into a form of spiritual training and a high art.
Whirling, which requires an inner emptiness and a heightened awareness, is not a trance but an exercise of mindful presence and an act of service. While whirling, the student, or dervish, is conscious of several things at once; pure awareness uncluttered by thought, harmony with the other participating dervishes, an inner connection with the sheikh who is leading the ceremony, and a conscious opening of the heart to the Divine.
The basic form of whirling is this: the right foot is lifted up to the knee and returned to the same place from which it was first lifted, while the left foot and leg become the axis on which the whole body revolves 360 degrees in a counterclockwise direction, and with each revolution the name Allah is pronounced inwardly. The arms are extended with the right palm turned upwards, receiving Divine grace, and the left palm facing downwards, bestowing on the earth the Divine energy, which passes through the heart. Beginning dervishes must dedicate themselves to practicing this basic form before they can partake in a ceremony.
The ceremony begins when the sheikh and dervishes walk majestically around the ceremonial space three times in a procession. Then, at a specific point on the circle they bow to each other, face-to-face, essence to essence. They are reenacting the journey of life, the progression from mineral, to vegetable, to animal, to human, and, finally, to a state beyond ego in which they are “resurrected” by Love.
The bulk of the ceremony is divided into four sessions of whirling, approximately ten minutes long, called selams. The first selam ends when the music stops. The dervishes halt, facing the sheikh. The movement is so quick that their billowing skirts wrap around their legs as they bow. The dervishes do a second selam, similar to the first but accompanied by different music. Then they do a third and most ecstatic selam, which represents union with the Divine. The third selam begins with the sheikh steps forward and silently recites a prayer:
In the fourth and final selam the dervishes cluster around the sheikh, who is now for the first time revolving slowly in the center. This selam represents receiving one’s selfhood back, now with a whole new state of being. It ends when a recitation of the Qur’an begins.
The whirling ceremony is one important facet of a way of life designed to maximize Divine remembrance, which in Islam is considered the highest of all human activities. The ceremony is typically offered once a week in a Mevlevi tekkye or center. It is preceded by spiritual conversation and discussion (sohbet), similar to what Hindus call satsang. This is followed by salaat, the ritual prayer of Islam, performed at five specified times during the day. Then there is Zikr (chanting the name of God) and the whirling ceremony itself. Immediately after the ceremony, the dervishes meditate for as long as their obligations permit, sometimes late into the night.
The whirling ceremony of the Mevlevis serves two main functions. First, it strengthens the bonds of affection and respect within the community of seekers. More importantly, it serves as a means for communion with the Divine, developing in individuals the capacity to be in touch with spiritual reality in the midst of the most demanding activities of everyday life.
The goal of Mevlevi training, including whirling, is to beautify and spiritualize the self through cultivating various artistic and intellectual skills and practicing service and contemplation. For more than seven hundred years the Mevlevi Order has been a crucible of transformation, giving birth to a highly refined aesthetic culture and providing a spiritual discipline that has brought many souls to human maturity.
Kabir Helminski is a sheikh of the Mevlevi Order and a noted author and translator.
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