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Whirling Dervish Ceremony: A show not to be missed in Istanbul

It's declared a UNESCO Heritage of Humanity.

· 2 min read

If you are planning a trip to Istanbul, then you should definitely consider adding the Whirling Dervish Ceremony to your itinerary. Amidst the bustling streets and rich history of Istanbul, the Whirling Dervish Ceremony offers visitors a glimpse into the essence of spiritual devotion and transcendence in the Sufi culture.


What is the Whirling Dervish Ceremony?

Originating from the teachings of 13th-century poet and mystic Jelaleddin Rumi, the 'whirling' ceremony, also known as the Mevlevi Sema ceremony, is a ritual designed to bring participants closer to God.

The ceremony is deeply rooted in the Sufi tradition, and emphasises on the inward search for divine truth and love. Sufism, also referred to as Islamic mysticism, embraces practices such as meditation, chanting, and dance as a means to achieving spiritual enlightenment; and the Sufis sought a closer relationship with God through chanting, praying, music, and a whirling dance.

Today, the whirling dance has been declared a UNESCO Heritage of Humanity.

What to expect at the Whirling Dervish Ceremony?

Central to this performance is the Whirling Dervish, dancers clad in flowing white robes that symbolises purity and surrender, will spin gracefully in a state of ecstatic meditation. As they whirl, their movements echo the celestial rhythms of the cosmos, embodying the journey of the soul towards enlightenment.

Source: GetYourGuide

Their whirling is fueled by accompanying traditional Turkish music, and the audience is enveloped in an atmosphere of tranquility.

The ceremony comprises four main segments, each depicting the stages of getting closer to God. The first segment describes human's acceptance of their status as created beings; the second depicting the joy felt when confronted with God’s omnipotent power; the third signifying **the transformation of rapture at God’s power into love; and the last showing how humans return to serve..

Keep in mind that the Whirling Dervish Ceremony is ultimately still a religious ceremony, so be respectful, keep your volumes low, and follow the rules of the venue when watching the show. In some venues, photography and videography is not allowed during the show; and there are dress codes required in some venues - so make sure to look out for the dos and don'ts.

Where to watch the Whirling Dervish Ceremony?

There are many places in Istanbul where you can watch the Dervish show, and they are typically held in a historic building or a cultural center.

However, it is said that while there are many places where you can watch the Dervish show, most of these shows are commercialised and overly catered for tourists, where the experience could end up feeling more like a show rather than a cultural experience and ritual.

Source: Viator

One of the most popular and highly recommended places to watch the Whirling Dervish Ceremony would be at the Hodjapasha Dance Theater, which is said to retain a good amount of authenticity while being fairly accessible to visitors. The Hodjapasha Dance Theater also provides visitors with a good insight to the ceremony, where the visit includes an exhibition prior to the show.

If you are looking for a truly authentic experience, consider visiting the Dervish lodges like the Galata Dervish Lodge. If you are planning to visit the lodges, remember to check the schedules of the ceremony and buy your tickets in advance. Tickets are sold out relatively quickly and the shows do not happen as frequently.

Getting tickets for the Whirling Dervish Ceremony

It is fairly easy to get tickets for the Hodjapasha Dance Theater. You can either get them from the official website, or get them from OTAs like Klook or GetYourGuide.

If you are not fussed about the theatre you go to, you can also check out Nomad's Tours feature to find the best deal for your show!