Monday, May 30, 2005

Why do the Dervishes whirl to the left?

Last week before leaving Konya, we visited the Mevlana Museum, former monastery of the Whirling Dervishes and Mevlana Jelaladdin Rumi. That night, the president of Konya's Rotary Club, who manages the Konya Hilton, arranged for us to attend a show with the dervishes at his hotel. Just us, the dervishes, and 20 camera-wielding Japanese tourists.

Born in 1207 in what is now Afghanistan, Mevlana eventually settled in Konya. Mevlana's belief system was changed after meeting a mysterious dervish named Shems of Tebriz in 1244. Their meeting is referred to as the 'meeting of two seas' and so began Mevlana's career as a scholar of mysticism. Mevlana's poetic masterpiece, Mesnevi, was written while mourning the 1247 murdr of Shems of Tebriz.

His most famous work includes this passage:

Whoever you may be, come
Even though you may be
An infidel, a pagan, or a fire-worshipper, come
Our brotherhood is not one of despair
Even though you have broken
Your vows of repentance a hundred times, come

After Mevlana's death, Mevlana's son organized his followers into an order called the Mevlevi, or Whirling Dervishes.

The dervishes' black outer garments represent mortals' unknowing of heaven. Their white capes, worn beneath the black, represent connection to God attained only after death. Their woolen hats represent gravestones.

Ataturk outlawed the dervishes in 1925 in an effort to separate church and state, but several orders remain as a religious brotherhood. The biggest is in Konya.

Bethany with new friends outside Mevlana Museum. Women are required to cover their heads in the museum, and these ladies helped Bethany adjust her wrap properly.

Our guide explained that Arabic is read (like Hebrew) from right to left, and this is also why the Dervishes whirl from right to left.


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