Whirling Dervishes In Istanbul – Whirling Into A Mystical Trance | Chasing the Donkey

We may earn commission from affiliate links

Whirling Dervishes In Istanbul – Whirling Into A Mystical Trance In Türkiye

Have you ever heard of the Whirling Dervishes in Istanbul? This mystical experience is part of a spiritual ritual, and you can see this religious ceremony in Istanbul. In this article, we’ll explore the history and significance of these whirling dervishes and what it is like to witness them in person.

Whirling Dervishes Of Istanbul

Nightlife In Istanbul - Whirling Dervish_Turkey

The Whirling Dervishes of Istanbul are a mystical Sufi order who practices a form of devotional dancing known as Sema. The semazen, or dervish, whirls continuously for several minutes, often becoming lost in a trance-like state. The Sema is thought to be a form of dhikr, or remembrance of Allah, and is believed to help the dervish achieve fana fi’l-Allah or annihilation of the self in God.

The Order of the Mevlevi was founded in 1273 by a Persian Sufi poet and scholar, Rumi. The Mevlevi were based in Konya, Türkiye, but spread to other parts of the Ottoman Empire. Today, several Mevlevi lodges (tekkes) in Istanbul where semazen can be seen performing the Sema ritual.

Whirling Dervishes Ceremony. Sufi Whirling Dervishes Ceremony at Galata Mawlawi House Museum.

The Sema ritual begins with the recitation of Islamic prayer. The dervishes then remove their black cloaks, and underneath are their white skirts. They begin to whirl slowly at first, gradually increasing their spinning speed. As they spin, they raise their right arms and turn their left palms upward toward heaven, symbolizing their submission to God. The music becomes more intense as the spinning dervishes reach a state of ecstasy. At the end of the ritual, the dervishes return to their original positions and replace their cloaks.

History Of The Whirling Dervishes

Semazen, Dervishes. Whirling Dervishes Ceremony in Istanbul, Turkey. Mevlana Dervish Dancing.

The Whirling Dervishes are a religious order of Sufi Muslims. The order is known for its distinctive form of Islamic mysticism. The Whirling Dervishes are just one example of the many different Sufi orders that exist within Islam. Sufism is often described as the mystical or interior dimension of Islam. Its adherents believe that it offers a direct path to God that bypasses the need for religious rituals or laws.

Sufi orders like the Whirling Dervishes have been persecuted at various times throughout history, both by orthodox Muslims who view them as heretical and by secular governments who see them as a threat to social stability. In recent years, however, there has been a resurgence of interest in Sufism within Islam and among people of other faiths who are attracted to its message of love and tolerance.

Rituals And Traditions Of The Whirling Dervish Ceremony

The Whirling Dervish ceremony is a Sufi ritual that has been performed for centuries in Turkey. It is a meditative and spiritual practice that involves spinning around in circles while chanting and praying. The goal of the ritual is to achieve a state of religious ecstasy and oneness with God.

During the ceremony, participants wear white robes and spin around clockwise. The spinning is said to represent the earth’s rotation around the sun, and the circular movements are meant to symbolize the infinite nature of God. As they spin, they recite prayers and hymns.

The Whirling Dervish ceremony is an integral part of Sufi culture and tradition. It is a way for believers to connect with God and achieve a state of enlightenment.

Where To See The Whirling Dervishes In Istanbul

If you are in Istanbul and looking for a unique and uniquely Turkish experience, be sure to book ahead! This mystical religious dance can be seen at various venues around the city.

Galata Mevlevi Museum

Semazen, Dervishes. Whirling Dervishes Ceremony in Istanbul.
One such place to see the whirling dervishes is undoubtedly at the Galata Mevlevihanesi, also known as the Mevlevi Museum. This museum is dedicated to the memory of Rumi, a 13th-century poet, and Sufi saint who is considered the founder of the Mevlevi Order. Tickets sell out weeks in advance, so plan ahead.

EMAV Sema 

If you’re looking for a more intimate setting, then try to get one of several seats reserved for guests to the private Sema ceremony. Complete with Zikr chanting, the EMAV Sema option is very traditional and comes highly recommended to me by my local friend. Sadly, the timings did not work for my last two trips to Istanbul – maybe I can try this one next time. 

Note: photos and videos are allowed to be taken. You can move around the room at your pleasure. 


Whirling Dervish Istanbul-6

You can also catch the whirling dervishes at Hodjapasha Culture Center like the kids, and I did this year. This performance space is located inside an Ottoman-era bathhouse. It can accommodate up to 200 people, making it a great option if you want to get up close and personal with these incredible dancers. Some say this is “touristy,” but we very much enjoyed the experience. The seats were comfortable, we were very close to the spinning, and the acoustics of the musicians on stage were top-notch. 

Note: photos and videos are not allowed to be taken. You also must stay in your seat for the complete duration. 

Book tickets here

No matter where you choose to see them, watching the whirling dervishes is an experience you won’t soon forget.

What To Expect At A Whirling Dervish Experience

The ceremony begins with the semazen (whirling dervish) entering and taking his place on a small platform in the center of the room. He is followed by the sheykh (leader), who sits on a slightly raised area at one side of the platform. The sheykh leads the group in prayers and readings from religious texts.

When they are ready, they begin to whirl slowly at first, gradually building up speed as they lose themselves in prayer. They continue until they reach a state. The experience for us at the HodjaPasha lasted less than an hour, but I have heard the one at the EMAV goes for almost twice as long.

Music And Dance In The Ceremony

The whirling dervishes of Istanbul are a sight to behold. Every year, thousands of people come from all over the world to witness this mystical trance-like state that the dervishes enter.

But what exactly is this state? And how does one achieve it?

The answer lies in the music and dance.

The music of the whirling dervishes is based on the Sufi tradition of sema, which involves chanting and devotional singing. This type of music is designed to induce a meditative state, which is essential for the dervishes to enter into their trance.

The combination of music, chanting, and dancing helps the dervishes achieve a deep meditative state in which they feel a sense of oneness with the universe. In this state, they can reach a higher level of consciousness and connect with God.

Costumes Of The Whirling Dervishes

Whirling Dervishes Ceremony. Sufi Whirling Dervishes Ceremony at Galata Mawlawi House Museum.

The Whirling Dervishes are known for their distinctive costumes and whirling dances. The dervishes wear white robes, representing the purity of their hearts, and they also wear tall conical hats, representing the tombstones of Sufi saints. Some carry wooden staffs, which they use to keep balance while they whirl.

The Whirling Dervishes are an important part of Turkish culture, and their ceremonies make a truly memorable experience!


Through their graceful whirling movements and beautiful music, the Whirling Dervishes of Istanbul offer a truly mesmerizing experience. Not only do they transport us to another realm through their spirituality, but they also provide an opportunity for self-reflection and contemplation. Whether you admire Turkish culture or just looking for something different to experience while in Istanbul, witnessing the Whirling Dervishes can be an enriching and memorable experience.

Related Posts