Twirling dervishes outside of Pamukkale, Turkey

When visiting Pamukkale, you’ll see that there is not much to do in the town itself. Tourists are attracted to the area because of the Pamukkale hot springs carved into the mountainside. Below, there are only large, modern hotels. After the excitement of seeing the ruins and the salt baths, our tour group returned to our hotel with a swim-up bar a DJ that only played American music. The juxtaposition was strange and I was longing for something more genuine and culturally rich, not an experience that was tailor-made for tourists. Our tour guide suggested taking the van outside of town to watch the twirling dervishes.

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Pamukkale.

The twirling dervishes are Sufi men who perform a special kind of meditation which results in a memorizing “dancing” motion. Sufis are those who practice a mysticism form of Islam. Some argue that they should be considered a sect of Islam and others argue that they are different religion altogether. These men are dressed in traditional dervish garbs which looks like white, flowy, dresses with a tall hat atop their heads. This form of meditation is to remove the ego. As a person plays traditional music from a wind instrument, the dervishes twirl in repetitive circles while their one arm is pointed upward towards the sun. The sun is meant to send energy through their bodies and the other arm is pointed to the ground as to direct the negative energy to exit the body. This performance can last hours. They study for years on how to perfect their meditation, release their ego, and not feel dizzy while twirling.

The place we went had chairs set up but we were the only ones in the building. The owner of the building and the farm surrounding it explained that we were not allowed to take pictures while the meditation was taking place, but the dervishes would return so we could snap a picture or two. I felt strange taking pictures when I was entranced by the beauty of the whirling. There was one adult dervish, the three others were pre-teen and teenage boys. The youngest was the son of the oldest dervish. It was actually his first time performing that night. The dervishes were close to perfection while twirling. Their focus was strong and their faces were hardened, except for the youngest one who couldn’t help but to crack an innocent smile. The dervishes all seemed to glow with an inner light that only some possess.

I was amazed by the experience. I felt I was in another world, but not just culturally. I am not a religious person, but while watching the ceremony, I felt transformed. At one point while sitting still, my body suddenly jolted up. I couldn’t quite explain it, but my soul was opened in that moment.

Later, the dervishes came out to greet us in their everyday clothing. We were served cinnamon tea. We thanked them with our beginner’s Turkish and showered them with compliments in English.

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