It had taken me a week to track down the underground dervish scene in Istanbul - the only dervish contact I had in the city was a carpet-seller called Abdullah deep in the bazaar. As with all quests, the difficulty only added to the sense of occasion when I did manage to locate them. Finally I found myself at a zikr (a remembrance) among 80 or so dervishes in a hidden tekke (religious house), and they began to chant, rhythmically, the name of Allah.
It was one of the most powerful sounds I have ever heard. In addition to a weaving violin and a zither that sends chills down your spine, there is a solo voice - similar to the muezzin's call from the minarets - that is full of heartbreaking longing. This is serious blues music, I thought. I was sitting in the middle of the group and, although I had permission to take photographs, I couldn't actually stand - pinned back by the weight of numbers but also by what seemed a spiritual force field.
When the tension was close to unbearable, 12 dervishes filed into the adjoining room and, in unison, took off their black cloaks - as if it were a holy fashion show - revealing white robes. Then they started spinning with incredible grace. This angelic whirling is a perfect counterpoint to the earthly chanting. Photographs can't prepare you for the disorienting feeling that the dervishes are defying gravity.
The dervishes are all Sufis, seekers on the mystical path to God, and are members of different Brotherhoods, chief among them Mevlevis, the school founded by the mystic poet Rumi 700 years ago. ... Nearly all the great musicians were Sufi disciples. From the 9th century, Sufi ascetics wandered the Islamic world, attracting followers to their gentle form of mystical Islam.
:: Inherent meaning of Sema movements
:: The beginning of the whirling