Konya: Mevlana and the Center of Sufism

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March 21st 2009
Published: May 21st 2009
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I knew nothing about Sufism till a few months before this trip. The mystique of the Whirling Dervishes held nothing for me. I may have read , even watched docu-films about them, but none registered. It didn't help that the drive from Denizli to Konya took all of 6 hours across plains that were extremely flat and featureless. The only excitement was offered by a brief pitstop in Dinar's Apamelo Restaurant. We indulged ourselves by ordering a glass of freshly squeezed oranges and a plate of yoghurt laced with honey and hashish. Yes, hashish. By this time, we have acquired a taste for it and we would not mind being served the same delicacy again just before bedtime. Some hot apple tea and two hours more on the road, and we found ourselves right in the center of Sufism.

Mevlana Celaluddin is the great Anatolyan philosopher and mystic , poet and the 'father' of the Mevleni sect. Think Whirling Dervishes. The dance is called "Sema" which has formed part of Turkish culture, custom and history. Sema represents the mystical journey of man's spiritual ascent by way of maximum and unlimited tolerance, love without regard for race, color or creed, positive outlook , and service to "the whole of creation". This spiritual maturity entails an acceptance of all religious beliefs in that all yearn for a common truth , for which reason Mevlana's philosophy and doctrine appealed to men of all sects and creeds.

Konya is where the Celebi family constructed the Museum in honor of their great grandfather who died in 1273. Rumi originally hailed from Tajikistan, born to a family of learned theologians. To escape the Mongol invasion, the family left and traveled extensively until they settled in Anatolya which was then part of the Selchuk Empire. A detailed record of their family tree was kept, and there are claims it is one of the oldest families in the whole world. The Museum cum Center of Sufism sits just right across our Balikcilar Hotel where our motorcoach dropped us off. We were tempted to take a nap after that 6 hour trip from Denizli to Konya. More so after helping ourselves with the yoghurt honey hashish combination. I do not know about the rest, but I was really so so sleepy up until we
reached the Museum.

Konya rises nearly like a mirage after another 2 hours of an uneventful ride. There were many Turkish pilgrims when we reached the Center, most of whom were dressed very conservatively. Konya is somewhat unsophisticated, but its religiousness is very striking. Veiled women crossing the streets and walking alongside the Center, horse-drawn carts holding up the traffic, and calls to prayer eliciting meaningful silences. So unlike the metropolitan mood in Istanbul and Kusadaci. One cannot help admiring and respecting this aspect of the Turkish tradition and culture. These people, with very simple lifestyles, of very modest means, take their religion and beliefs quite seriously. Sufism, for one, preaches inner purity , peace and love for all. I am most impressed by this saying: "You may strike the oyster shell, but it won't damage the pearl". In today's world of materialism and culture of greed for power, Sufism is one refreshing thought.

The Museum houses the tomb of Mevlana, a philosopher who visited Konya in its glory days when it was still the capital of the Sultanate of Rum in the 12th and 13th
No photographs allowed insideNo photographs allowed insideNo photographs allowed inside

This is how far you can go with your camera.
centuries. The room behind the Mausoleum is where the Mevlevi sect performed their ritual dance. History claims that Mevlana Rumi was introduced to the mystical path by a wandering dervish by the name of Shamsuddin. There was a great mystic love between Shams and Rumi, which the latter's family disapproved of. Shams left Konya twice, and his last disappearance drew speculations that he may have been murdered. Rumi's love and bereavement over the disappearance of his friend Shams was thus expressed in poetry, music and dance. The trance-like dance called Sema caught the interest of many, as the Whirling Dervishes in their long white gowns and headdresses evoke so much spirituality. The headdresses are supposed to be "tombstones" for their egos. The Whirling Dervishes are said to be deserting their egos as they perform this mystic ritual. The revolutions (with the right hand's palm facing the skies to receive grace from heaven, the left hand turned toward the earth in order to "distribute" the graces) follow a scientific belief that man's existence lies in the revolution of many things: the electrons, protons and neutrons in the atoms , blood circulation within the body, the earth circling the sun, the planets on a perennial orbit, etc. Mevlana believed that whirling around induces a state of universal love which is the very doctrine of this mystical sect of Islam. Each dance is preceded by dervishes crossing their arms across the chest, to represent unity with God, until the arms open as the dervishes whirl round and round. In whirling away their earthly ties, the dervishes are said to effect their union with God.

When the Ottoman Empire was overthrown in 1924, the great Mustafa Kemal Ataturk banned the Mevlevi order and the ceremonial Whirling Dervishes. The ban lasted all of 25 years. Subsequently, a group of dervishes was able to lobby with the Konyan government to lift the ban and allow the ritual dance as a cultural performance. Each year to this day, this mesmerizing spectable is performed every mid-December to celebrate the death anniversary of Mevlana . We missed this , of course. Someone in our group has watched the Whirling Dervishes performance in one of the theaters back in Istanbul, and found it so commercialized. We both agreed that there is something about being here, right in Konya, right in Mevlava's Museum and
That is what the sign says......That is what the sign says......That is what the sign says......

More a shrine, than a museum ......
Monastery that is simply so inspiring as well as soul-soothing. Perhaps the devotion is felt all around, and strangers and first-time visitors that we are, we were not spared by the universal love and harmony that this place promotes.

Back in our hotel, I promised myself I'd read up more on Sufism. I remember a 24 year old godson who was a Sufi devotee who passed on just 4 months before. His parents were very good friends of mine, and to this day, we are still in shock over how Miguel's life has been too brief. When Miguel turned 24 last October, he emailed an aunt :

"I am now 24 years old.......still young and free like a wild stallion roaming this wonderful planet earth"

In his brief life, Miguel's serenity and tranquility impressed upon us how much he has embraced this Sufi philosophy of unlimited tolerance and universal love. We will forever remember him smiling at us while playing his sitar.

The heart is
The thousand-stringed instrument
That can only be tuned with

Additional photos below
Photos: 9, Displayed: 9


Baklava and More PastriesBaklava and More Pastries
Baklava and More Pastries

We didn't stop for just fruits........

22nd May 2009

Happy to know about Sufism ...
22nd May 2009

A beautiful article - thank you. You write so clearly and confidently! I really enjoyed how you explained Sufi hand movements and history, as well as the saying about the pearl.
22nd July 2009

Finally, I was able to read this. Interesting! Wasn't able to go to Anatolya anymore, but took the flight to Denizli as well to go to Pamukkale. Miguel would have loved this place you are featuring. And thanks for mentioning him with such fondness...
23rd July 2009

Your travels
I always enjoy our lunches together when you would talk about your trips. Now it's even more interesting as it is in print. But I still like to have those lunches. Maybe in a few months?
25th July 2009

12th January 2010

Blog of the year 2009 for the Middle East/writing category
Check this out :) http://www.travelblog.org/Topics/22180-1.html
25th July 2011

Great Experience
Recently I had a short visit to Konya, how great spritual experience was this. The city is full of historical smell and was great pleasure to experience Mevlanas culture in place. I stayed in Rixos Konya Hotel, the local people are very sympathic, you can always feel the geniune griendly touch of hospitality. Thanks to all made my time enjoyable...
30th January 2015

I Love Konya and Mavlana and
I Love konya and Mavlana and Shams-i Tabrizi. I came twice time to Konya,each time was for me wonderful and fascinated me.The people the city and the wether was fabulous for me. Teh first time that i came to Konya was two years ago mean from 10.December.2013 til 14.December.2013,the second time was 15. December.2014 til 19.December.2014. I'm inconvient that I couldn't come this year to Konya,but I'll try to come back next year. Thanks a lot for kindness and friendlyness for me and other guasts. With best rigarts karan amirfeyz
4th February 2015

Konya is worth many visits
Konya touches us to the core. If I revisit Turkey, i too would love to head back to Konya!
17th February 2015

Hi again, you know my name is karan amirfeyz and I'll be Tell you which places I saw in konya when I was there. I 'vw been written the dates that I were there in my first comment at30 January 205: First of all I visited Mevlanan Museum Second Museum of Tiles-The Karatay Museum After That Ince Minare Museum Than The Archaeological Museum Next The Ethnological Museum- The Ataturk Museum-The Konyunoglu museum- The Sircalimedrese Museum- The Seljuk Palace next again The Mausoleum ( Tumb and Mosque ) of Sems Tabriz After That Selimiye Mosque- Alaaddin Mosque- Aziziye Mosque. This places were very great interesting and fabulous and amazing. With Best Rigards karan amirfeyz

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