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How To See The Whirling Dervishes In Istanbul For Free


by Aleen Reece



When it comes to experiencing the rich cultural heritage of Turkey, one cannot miss the mesmerizing performance of the Whirling Dervishes. These mystical dancers, also known as Mevlevi Sufis, have been captivating audiences for centuries with their graceful and mesmerizing whirling movements. Istanbul, the bustling metropolis that straddles Europe and Asia, is home to a number of venues where you can witness this enchanting tradition.


The Whirling Dervishes are more than just performers; they are members of an ancient Turkish religious order called the Mevlevi Order. Rooted in the teachings of the Persian poet and theologian Rumi, these devout individuals are practitioners of Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam. The practice of whirling, or sema, is considered a form of meditation and a path to connect with the divine.


Visiting Istanbul offers a unique opportunity to witness the Whirling Dervishes in action and gain insight into Turkey’s spiritual traditions. While some venues charge a fee for attending a Whirling Dervish performance, there are also ways to experience this captivating artform for free.


Understanding Whirling Dervishes

Before delving into where and how to see the Whirling Dervishes in Istanbul, it’s essential to gain a deeper understanding of their spiritual practice and the significance of their whirling ritual.


The Whirling Dervishes follow the teachings of Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi, a 13th-century poet, mystic, and philosopher. Rumi’s poetry and philosophy have had a profound influence on the world, emphasizing love, unity, and spiritual enlightenment. The Whirling Dervishes aim to attain a state of spiritual ecstasy or union with God through their whirling performance.


The whirl is not simply a dance; it is a form of active meditation. The dervishes spin in repetitive circles, their white gowns flaring out as they twirl. This dance symbolizes the cosmic dance of the universe and the harmony between humanity and the divine. It is a visual representation of the inner journey towards enlightenment and the breaking free from worldly attachments.


The dancers create a mystical ambiance with their serene expressions, closed eyes, and flowing movements. The continuous spinning induces a trance-like state, enabling the dervishes to reach a spiritual plane where they transcend their physical existence.


It’s important to approach the Whirling Dervishes’ performance with respect and an open mind, recognizing that it is not a mere spectacle but a sacred ritual deeply rooted in spiritual faith.


History of Whirling Dervishes in Istanbul

The history of the Whirling Dervishes in Istanbul can be traced back to the 13th century when Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi founded the Mevlevi Order. Rumi, originally from Afghanistan, settled in Konya, a city in present-day Turkey, and established the order as a place of spiritual study and practice.


Over the centuries, the order grew in popularity and spread throughout the Ottoman Empire, including Istanbul. The city became an important center for Mevlevi Sufism, and various tekkes (lodges) were established for the Whirling Dervishes to perform their rituals and offer spiritual guidance.


During the Ottoman period, the Mevlevi Order faced challenges and oppression due to changing political landscapes and power struggles. However, it managed to survive through the unwavering devotion of its followers.


Despite the challenges, the Whirling Dervishes and their sema ceremonies continue to be an integral part of Istanbul’s cultural and religious fabric. Today, Istanbul houses several venues where visitors can experience the mesmerizing performance of the Whirling Dervishes.


One of the most prominent venues is the Galata Mevlevi Lodge, located in the Galata district of Istanbul. The lodge, dating back to the 15th century, is a historic landmark where the Mevlevi Sufis lived and practiced. It now serves as a museum and occasionally hosts Whirling Dervish performances.


Another notable location is the Hodjapasha Cultural Center, situated in the heart of the Sultanahmet neighborhood. This converted Turkish bathhouse provides a unique setting for Whirling Dervish performances, combining the spiritual ambiance with the architectural beauty of the space.


It’s worth noting that while some venues may charge an entrance fee for Whirling Dervish performances, there are also opportunities to witness these captivating rituals for free, particularly during special religious occasions or cultural festivals.


The history of the Whirling Dervishes in Istanbul is a testament to the enduring legacy of Rumi’s teachings and the profound impact they have had on Turkish spirituality and cultural traditions.


Finding Free Whirling Dervish Performances

Experiencing a Whirling Dervish performance in Istanbul can be a truly enlightening experience. While some venues may charge an entrance fee, there are opportunities to witness these captivating rituals for free.


One way to find free Whirling Dervish performances is to stay informed about religious holidays and cultural festivals that celebrate the Mevlevi Order. One such event is the Urs of Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi, which takes place in December. During this significant occasion, special performances are held in Konya, the birthplace of Rumi. However, Istanbul also hosts events to commemorate the Urs, providing an opportunity to witness the Whirling Dervishes for free.


Another approach is to explore local cultural centers and community organizations that may organize free or donation-based events featuring Whirling Dervish performances. These events often aim to promote cultural exchange and understanding, attracting artists and enthusiasts who are passionate about sharing the beauty of Turkish traditions.


Additionally, keep an eye out for special events and performances organized by schools or academies dedicated to preserving and promoting Turkish cultural heritage. They may occasionally offer free showcases of Whirling Dervish performances to foster appreciation for this artistic and spiritual practice.


It’s also worth mentioning that some venues offer discounted or free entry for students, seniors, or local residents. If you fall into any of these categories, it’s worth inquiring about any special rates or promotions that may be available.


Lastly, consider seeking recommendations and advice from locals or fellow travelers who have previously attended Whirling Dervish performances in Istanbul. They may be aware of specific venues or events that welcome visitors without any admission fees.


Remember that the availability of free Whirling Dervish performances may vary throughout the year, so it’s important to plan your visit accordingly and stay updated on any upcoming events or festivals.


By being resourceful and taking advantage of the cultural offerings in Istanbul, you can find opportunities to witness the Whirling Dervishes without breaking the bank.


Tips for a Successful Whirling Dervish Experience

Attending a Whirling Dervish performance in Istanbul can be a memorable and transformative experience. To make the most of your visit, here are some tips to ensure a successful and fulfilling experience:

  1. Research Performance Etiquette: Familiarize yourself with the customs and etiquette associated with Whirling Dervish performances. Respectful behavior is crucial, including remaining quiet, refraining from photography or videography, and refraining from applause during the performance.
  2. Arrive Early: As free Whirling Dervish performances can attract a considerable crowd, it’s advisable to arrive early to secure a good seat. This enables you to have a better view and fully immerse yourself in the atmosphere.
  3. Dress Appropriately: Since attending a Whirling Dervish performance is a solemn and spiritual occasion, it’s important to dress modestly and respectfully. Both men and women should cover their shoulders and avoid wearing revealing clothing out of respect for the cultural significance of the event.
  4. Cultivate Mindfulness: As you witness the mesmerizing whirling, try to cultivate a sense of mindfulness and presence. Let go of distractions and focus on the meditative aspects of the performance. Allow yourself to be carried away by the beauty and significance of the ritual.
  5. Read about Rumi and Sufism: To deepen your understanding and appreciation, read books or articles about the life and teachings of Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi. Familiarize yourself with the principles of Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam that the Whirling Dervishes follow. This knowledge can enhance your comprehension and connection with the performance.
  6. Embrace Cultural Exchange: Attending a Whirling Dervish performance is not just about being a passive observer; it’s an opportunity for cultural exchange and appreciation. Approach the experience with an open mind, ready to absorb the spiritual teachings and connect with the universal message of love and unity conveyed through the whirling ritual.
  7. Reflect and Contemplate: After the performance, take some time to reflect on your experience. Consider the symbolism of the whirling dance, its connection to spirituality, and how it resonates with your own personal journey. Allow the experience to inspire self-reflection and introspection.

By following these tips, you can make your Whirling Dervish experience in Istanbul a meaningful and enriching one. Remember to approach the event with respect and reverence, embracing the opportunity to connect with centuries-old traditions of spiritual enlightenment.



Experiencing the Whirling Dervishes in Istanbul is an extraordinary way to immerse yourself in the rich spiritual and cultural heritage of Turkey. The mesmerizing and meditative performances of the Whirling Dervishes offer a glimpse into the mystical world of Sufism and the teachings of Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi.


Whether you choose to attend a paid performance or seek out free opportunities, witnessing the whirling ritual is a transformative experience. The graceful movements, the serene expressions, and the timeless message of love and unity create a profound impact on the audience.


Remember to approach the Whirling Dervish performances with respect, understanding, and an open mind. Familiarize yourself with the customs and etiquette associated with these sacred rituals to fully appreciate their significance. Arrive early, dress appropriately, and embrace the opportunity for self-reflection as you are whisked away by the transcendent beauty of the performance.


In your quest to find free Whirling Dervish performances, research religious holidays and cultural festivals that celebrate the Mevlevi Order. Explore local cultural centers and community organizations, and seek recommendations from locals to discover hidden opportunities to witness this exceptional tradition without any admission fees.


Attending a Whirling Dervish performance in Istanbul is not just a visual spectacle; it is an immersive and transformative experience that allows you to connect with a centuries-old spiritual practice. Through the enchanting whirling dance, you will gain a deeper understanding of Sufism, experience a sense of transcendence, and be inspired by the timeless message of love and unity that these devout performers convey.


Embrace the opportunity to witness the Whirling Dervishes in Istanbul, and let their ethereal movements transport you to a state of peace and spiritual enlightenment.