The great sufi scholar and poet Mevlana Jalaladdin Rumi died in 1273 in Konya, Turkey. This year marks the 848th death anniversary, which followers call his “union with God” (vuslat).

Each year, thousands of people travel to the Turkish city of Konya to attend a weeklong series of events and ceremonies that mark the death of the 13th-century Islamic poet, scholar and Sufi mystic Jalaladdin Rumi.

Instead of mourning his death, however, the ceremonies celebrate what his followers believe is his union with God.

The main feature of the “Sheb-i Arus” or “night of the union,” is an enchanting ritual performed by the dervishes of the Mevlevi order — more commonly known as the whirling dervishes.

The rite begins with a recital of prayers and verses from the Quran. The dervishes, dressed in long white robes symbolising shrouds, black cloaks symbolising tombs and long headgear symbolising tombstones, then rise from the ground to salute each other.

“There is no early or late for us./ The only way to measure a lover/ is by the grandeur of the beloved./ Judge a moth by the beauty of its candle.”
“There is no early or late for us./ The only way to measure a lover/ is by the grandeur of the beloved./ Judge a moth by the beauty of its candle.” (Francisco Seco / AP)

Leaving their cloaks on the ground, they take their places around the circular floor and begin to spin to reach a trance-like state that they believe unites them with God. The ritual is performed to the sound of chanting and music from a reed flute and other instruments.

As they whirl, the dervishes' right hands are symbolically turned upward toward God, while their left hands are turned downward to Earth.

“Don’t grieve. Anything that you lose comes round/ in another form. The child weaned from mother’s milk/ now drinks wine and honey mixed.”
“Don’t grieve. Anything that you lose comes round/ in another form. The child weaned from mother’s milk/ now drinks wine and honey mixed.” (Francisco Seco / AP)

The ceremony ends as it started, with the recital of prayers.

Rumi, who is known as Mevlana in Turkey, was born in Balkh — which is now in Afghanistan — in 1207, but settled in Konya, where he died on Dec. 17, 1273. His son, Sultan Veled, established the Mevlevi order of the mystical form of Islam, Sufism, after his death.

“A secret turning in us/ makes the universe turn./ Head unaware of feet,/ and feet head. Neither cares./ They keep turning.”
“A secret turning in us/ makes the universe turn./ Head unaware of feet,/ and feet head. Neither cares./ They keep turning.” (Francisco Seco / AP)

Although religious orders were banned in Turkey in the early 1920s with the establishment of the secular republic, the dervishes’ rituals were regarded as a cultural heritage and the order was largely tolerated. There are now many Sufi dervish orders around the world, including in the United States. Women have been allowed to join some lodges, although an overwhelming number of dervishes are men.

“The sun is love. The lover,/ a speck circling the sun./ A Spring wind moves to dance/ any branch that isn’t dead.”
“The sun is love. The lover,/ a speck circling the sun./ A Spring wind moves to dance/ any branch that isn’t dead.” (Abdullah Dogan / AA)

In 2005, the United Nations’ cultural body, UNESCO, proclaimed the dervishes’ ritual a masterpiece of “the oral and intangible heritage of humanity.”

The structure holding Rumi’s tomb in Konya is now a museum as well as a pilgrimage site.

This year, visitors were able to return to the ceremonies honouring Rumi, after the coronavirus pandemic forced last year’s commemorations to be held without spectators.

“Humble living does not diminish. It fills./ Going back to a simpler self gives wisdom./ When a man makes up a story for his child,/ he becomes a father and a child/ together, listening.”
“Humble living does not diminish. It fills./ Going back to a simpler self gives wisdom./ When a man makes up a story for his child,/ he becomes a father and a child/ together, listening.” (Abdullah Dogan / AA)

One visitor from the United States, Rupert Flowers, told the state-run Anadolu Agency that he travelled to Konya, inspired by Rumi’s best-known and welcoming quatrain:

“Come! Come again! Whoever, whatever you may be, come!

“Heathen, idolatrous or fire worshipper, come!

“Even if you deny your oaths a hundred times, come!

“Our door is the door of hope, come! Come as you are!”

Translated by Coleman Barks, with John Moyne, AJ Arberry and Reynold Nicholson. Rumi: Selected Poems, Penguin Classics, 1999.

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,/ there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,/ there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” (Francisco Seco / AP)

THUMBNAIL PHOTO: “There is a worm addicted to eating grape leaves./ Suddenly, he wakes up, call it grace, whatever, something/ wakes him, and he’s no longer/ a worm.” (Abdullah Coskun/AA)

HEADLINE PHOTO: “He’s the entire vineyard,/ and the orchard too, the fruit, the trunks,/ a growing wisdom and joy/ that doesn’t need/ to devour.” (Francisco Seco/AP)

Source: TRTWorld and agencies