Konya, last home of the whirling dervishes

Have you heard of the whirling dervishes ?

I had, but only as a picture in a book. I just thought of it as a typical turkish thing I wanted to see for myself, in the same way I wanted to eat some baklavas. And that’s why I had planned a short stop in Konya when visiting Turkey, because it’s the only place where I could witness a dervish ceremony for free.

Shame on me, I know. But, if you’re one who already knows all about Rumi and Sufism, please try to understand that, as a french girl who had never visited a muslim country, I had just never been before in a position to learn about all of that.

But that’s what travel is about, right ? To learn about others and to try and see the world in a new way.

For those of you who, like me not that long ago, still don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, let me enlighten you. Let me tell you why Konya, who was supposed to be just a short stop on the road, is just amazing.

When I arrived in Konya, I sat down in a park next to my travel companion of the day and took out my guidebook, trying to figure out what we could do while waiting for the evening and the dervish ceremony.

“There’s a lot of museums” I said with a wince, as reluctant as ever at the idea of trapping myself indoors with a lot of tourists.

“Where is the one with the tomb ?” My friend asked.

I frowned at my book for a minute then pointed out a name at her.

“You mean this guy’s tomb ?”

“This guy ?” She repeated after me incredulously. “It’s Rumi.”

In short order, I received a crash course on Rumi, the guy whose ideas and poems inspired so many people, the whirling dervishes themselves and a good part of Sufism, the mystic dimension of Islam.

Still blushing guiltily at my own ignorance, I agreed to visit the Mevlana Museum, where this guy’s tomb was.

As I progressed through the garden all the way to the tomb itself, I slowly started to realize how much it meant to some of the people surrounding me. How much Rumi and his teachings had influenced their lives. I could feel how emotional the crowd in front of Rumi’s tomb was, how deep it went. One woman was silently crying, smiling peacefully, her eyes riveted to the traditional turban on top of the tomb.

I could see people from all nationalities with that respectful expression on their face, making me even more curious. Who was this guy who could transcend all beliefs and countries with his teachings ?

I toured the entire museum, reading every explanation board carefully, piecing together the story in my head. I asked : “Why is this so important ?”

“Because he only preaches love.” I was answered.

That was it then. Through art, through his poems, through music and dance, Rumi was saying that the answer to everything was love. That to love something was to find god.

I started reading some of his poems, and the meaning, transcending religion and faith, got through to me immediately. I forgot that he was talking about a god, understanding it through the lens of my own beliefs.

I do believe that we are one, that as soon as we understand each other, we can love each other, and that love is the solution to everything. And although in this particular poem Rumi seems to talk only about humans, I feel from the rest of his work that this love is extended to all things, be it other living things, or just an action, a thought, a dream.

I feel so fortunate to have discovered these teachings in the ideal setting. That evening, the dervish ceremony had a whole new meaning, way more profound than what it would have been if I hadn’t talked to anybody that day, bypassed the museum and sat down in the open air stadium where the ceremony takes place knowing just as little as I did when I left home.

I thought Konya would be just a curiosity to see, but it in fact became the number one place I would recommend to a traveler coming to Turkey for the first time.

When was the last time you had such a big learning experience while traveling ?

The Mevlana Museum and the ceremony are both free. The ceremony takes place every sunday at 7 pm, ask any local and they will point you in the right direction, it’s in walking distance of the city center.

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