Last Saturday I toured Konya, a large, extremely conservative city which is a 3+ hour drive south of Ankara. It is home to the Whirling Dervishes, a religious order that follows Mevlâna Jelaleddin Rumî, a 13th-century mystic and poet. Before I lived in Turkey in the 80s, I thought the dervishes were performers, dancing for entertainment purposes; I then learned that the slow whirling of the white-robed men was religious in nature, a tribute to Rumî. His death was considered to be his wedding night with God. I attended a performance in Istanbul with perhaps half a dozen dervishes during my first stay in Turkey.
In 1925, Atatürk’s reforms dictated that Sufism (the religious order that Mevlânas follow) be abandoned and the lodges where the dervishes met be converted into museums. It was not until 1954 that the dervishes were allowed to perform in public again; now the ten-day Mevlâna festival takes place in Konya each December in a new sports hall; so new that while the building is complete, the grounds are still being worked on. Dozens of men and women were placing bricks in place for sidewalks and planting a variety of shrubs. Inside, the building was somewhat stark. There were long lines for not just the restrooms but also to get into the small prayer rooms.
The performance began with 35-45 minutes of singing, speeches, and music. The dervishes then danced for close to an hour. As you can see, there were two dozen men dancing during the festival. Quite a sight.
We also visited the Mevlâna Museum (Mevlana Müzesi) where Rumî, the Mevlâna, is buried next to his father. The beautiful dome gives the museum it’s nickname, “The Green Mausoleum.”