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Customs of Whirling Dervishes

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Dervishes wear tall, conical felt hats, white robes with full skirts and voluminous black cloaks above it. The hats symbolize the tombstones of their egos, white robes signify the shrouds of their egos and the black cloaks represent their worldly tombs. At the beginning of the ceremony, the black cloak is discarded to signify their liberation from the attachments of this world.

The whirling ritual of the Dervishes or the Sema, as it is called, begins with a chanted prayer. Then a kettledrum sounds (symbol of divine order) followed by a musical improvisation on the "ney" or reed flute (symbol of divine breath). After this, the master bows, leads the Dervishes in a circle and then on reaching the head of the hall they bow to each other (signify salutation of soul to soul).

On completion of three circles, the Dervishes drop their black clothes, approach the master serially with their arms folded on their breast and then after bowing, kissing his hand and receiving instruction, they spin out on the floor. The whirling of the Dervishes implies their renunciation of the worldly life to be reborn in union with God. During the movement they keep their right hand palm-up to receive the blessings and the left hand palm-down to transfer it to the earth.

After whirling for sometime, the Dervishes kneel, pray and then start again. This combination of whirling and salutation is repeated four times. At the end of this, the Hafiz reads the Koran. The sema concludes with a unanimous prayer for the peace of the soul.


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