Rumi and the Whirling Dervishes

Rumi and the Whirling Dervishes by Shems Friedlander is a book I first read when doing research for a dissertation on dance and the sacred in Islam. It is a beautiful book with many photographs of dervishes whirling and the story of how Sultan Walad, the son of Rumi instigated this particular form of sema after his father’s death in 1273. It was Sultan Walad who gave the Mevlevi Order its structure and contributed to the choreography of the sema with parts like the stately walk around the space before the whirling begins, and it is in the sema, as it has been danced for centuries, that the spirit of Rumi’s love and devotion has been carried down to the present time along with the great corpus of his poetry. In this book you will find the words of a twelve year old participant that express so aptly the power of the sema today. He says, “Sometimes, during the sema, it feels as if Mevlana is holding my hand. I begin to smile inside and my heart is warm, and later it is as if what my eyes see is different from before”

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