“Eat less, sleep less, talk less: these are the three principles for becoming a whirling dervish,” said Tamer Yigit, a native from Konya and colleague who toured us around the renowned Mevlana museum for the day. His face gleamed under the rays of the sun, a naturally staged spotlight somehow illuminating the words of wisdom that left his lips. I abandoned my deepening thoughts as several members of our delegation chuckled at his words, “haha, unfortunately we have all failed terribly,” shouted a British accent, several heads behind me. Turkish locals looked over curiously, as I questioned how far-fetched these principles were and ironically remembered Coca Cola’s advertising campaign ‘Eat Coca Cola, sleep Coca Cola, drink Coca cola’. Whilst the world was obsessed with consumerism these dervishes had to sacrifice man’s biggest vices. I was intrigued and quenched my thirst for more.
I had always wanted to visit Konya, to experience its spiritual dimensions often mentioned in novels and documentaries. The whirling dervishes and the Sufi practices that wielded the external love one had for his Lord. I had come across the spiritual poems of Rumi many years ago, that’s Jalāl ad-Dīn Rumi to be correct, yet more commonly known as Rumi or Mevlana, one of the best mystical poets of all time. I remember being touched by his soothing poetry, most delicately spoken, sweet and humble. And that the sentences flowed like calm rivers, embracing all creation willing to immerse into its tranquil waters.
We had arrived in Konya with a delegation from the UK as part of a Dialogue Society Academic Workshop. Three days were spent watching, analyzing, comparing and debating papers that were presented about Multiculturalism. It was a highly insightful workshop which left the group with plenty to think about. I was ready to balance the theoretical overload with some practical examples of culture in Konya.
Jalāl ad-Dīn Rumi was a 13th century mystic Sufi, the leader of the Mawlavi Sufi order that emphasises the importance of peace, love and tolerance. He was born in the province of Balkh in the district of Wakhsh in Khorasan (now in modern Afghanistan/Tajikistan) and was buried in Konya next to his father in 1273. His successor, Hüsamettin Çelebi built a museum over the grave of his master and since then his followers and appreciators of his spiritual poetry come to visit from all over the world.
As I listened to the harmonious melody of the ney (reed flute) as I walked around the historic museum (once a dervish lodge), I also admired the intricately designed Ottoman artifacts and motifs that adorned the tall walls. Ahead were large crowds of people forming semi circles around the tombs and in the farthest corner lay the largest tomb, the resting place of Mevlana where many tourists as well as locals read prayers and looked on solemnly. On the left to his tomb in an empty space is where it is believed that Mevlana’s son Sultan Velet used to whirl. Dangling from the ceiling like a disco ball is an 8 sided globe-like mirror which the whirling dervish would look up to see eight dervishes in motion, whirling in unity, the right arm reached up towards heaven to receive God’s overflowing mercy which is channeled through the heart and transmitted to the earth via the left arm facing downwards. “Dervishes whirl in this motion for several hours, their heads tilted in a 27 degree angle replicating the 27 degree tilted axis of the planets whilst orbiting the sun,” said our tour guide as members of the group drew expressions of surprise and interest across their faces.
Across the hall in glass cabinets sat the most beautiful ancient Ottoman calligraphy and Qurans that dated as far back as the 7th century. Amongst the fascinating scriptures included a Quran written on gazelle skin from the 9th Century and another written on black with special ink to reflect the moonlight in the dark. As I wondered around the museum admiring the authentic belongings of the Ottoman Empire, including tall wooden doors made out of one piece of wood, carved intricately to the finest detail and the largest prayer mats I have ever seen all narrating stories through unique designs, I noticed an overly excited group of people huddling enthusiastically around a particular cabinet. They were pressing their noses against the glass, systematically, one at a time. On closer inspection I realised that they were smelling a scent coming from a hole made in the glass. Wrapped in 40 layers of cloth, it is believed that the beard of Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) is protected in that cabinet, releasing a sweet, rose odor despite the layers, which is what the visitors were nudging and shoving to smell.
During the downhill drive from the museum, I admired the red roofed detached Monopoly houses spread across the scenic view. Some of the houses were faced towards us, others looking to the right, left or sat revealing their back porch doors as though turning in their own orbits. When we reached the bottom of the curly downhill slope, we were welcomed by a tall hedge, shaven to shape a whirling dervish. Everything seemed to resemble or replicate the idea of turning and whirling, never completely turning one’s back onto another, forever embracing everyone, which reminded me of Rumi’s famous words;
“Come, come, whoever you are,
Wanderer, idolater, worshipper of fire,
Come even though you have broken your vows a thousand times,
Come, and come yet again.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.”
Rumi’s message extends an invitation to anybody who is searching to come to the light and embrace the joy of loving, regardless of who they are and what they believe; a perfect manifestation for the debates had on multiculturalism. I think that there is a lot to be learnt from Rumi’s teachings. And perhaps if we ate less slept less and talked less we’d have more time to embrace it.
*The ideas expressed in this column are solely the opinions of the author and not necessarily of the Dialogue Society