Akshita Roongta

Field Recording: Music of the Whirling Dervishes of Istanbul

On a recent trip to Istanbul, with family, we were lucky enough to view an authentic seeming performance of the now famous whirling dervishes. I have the entire performance on audio, have a listen below:

Here’s a short video that was shot by my sister that shows the lead up to the actual whirling.

What are whirling dervishes you ask? Wikipedia article on Dervishes to the rescue:

A Dervish or Darvesh (from Persian درویش, Darvīsh via Turkish, Somali: Daraawiish, Arabic: درويش‎, Darwīš) is someone treading a Sufi Muslim ascetic path or “Tariqah”, known for their extreme poverty and austerity. In this respect, Dervishes are most similar to mendicant friars in Christianity or Hindu/Buddhist/Jain sadhus.

Many Dervishes are mendicant ascetics who have taken a vow of poverty, unlike mullahs. The main reason they beg is to learn humility, but Dervishes are prohibited to beg for their own good. They have to give the collected money to other poor people.

Rumi writes in Book 1 of his Masnavi:

Water that’s poured inside will sink the boat
While water underneath keeps it afloat.
Driving wealth from his heart to keep it pure
King Solomon preferred the title ‘Poor’:
That sealed jar in the stormy sea out there
Floats on the waves because it’s full of air,
When you’ve the air of dervishood inside
You’ll float above the world and there abide…

The whirling dance or Sufi whirling that is proverbially associated with Dervishes is best known in the West by the practices (performances) of the Mevlevi order in Turkey, and is part of a formal ceremony known as the Sema. It is, however, also practiced by other orders. The Sema is only one of the many Sufi ceremonies performed to try to reach religious ecstasy (majdhb, fana).

I won’t dispute this in the least, while it is not meant for entertainment, and has become a tourist attraction, and the dervishes we saw were performing, there was a certain authenticity to the whole thing. It was quite evident that the whirling was about being lost in the moment or in God or religious practice.

The whole experience felt more authentic because it got boring to watch towards the end, as it was repetitive, so I’m glad no flourishes were added to keep the audience engaged.

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