City of whirling dervishes

I first heard about Konya from Rumi’s poetry during my teenage. I read about it a bit more when I visited Tabriz as an adult and developed a fascination for Shams Tabriz and his relationship with Rumi.
So, when my friend suggested we go to Konya during our Turkey sojourn, I said why not and we ended up in the city of whirling dervishes.  There are many stories surrounding the birth of the city. According to a Roman myth, when Perseus killed a dragon that had been wreaking havoc in the nearby area, the people set up a stone obelisk with an icon of Perseus engraved in it, which gave the city its name Iconium or Ikonyum. 
The Muslim myth is about two dervishes who were teleporting from far away. During their flight over Anatolia region, one of them asked the other, “Shall I land?” (“Konayim mi?”). The other responded, “Sure, land” (“Kon ya!”) They landed, found the city and that is how it got its name — Konya.
The archeological reality predates both the myths. The ruins of Catal Huyuk show that the region was inhabited as early as Neolithic Period — around 7000 BC making it one of the oldest sites in the world. 
Konya was the last stop on our itinerary. We took an overnight bus from Kushadasi to Konya and were pleasantly surprised on arrival — after the mind-numbing heat of Istanbul, Seljuk, Izmir and Kushadasi, Konya at the altitude of over 1000 meters above the sea level was pleasant. 
It is quite different from the other Turkish cities we had seen and the Islamic identity of its people is more visible here. Women are seen in more conservative clothing, there are mosques and public wuzu (ablution) places everywhere. The pace of life is much slower and one gets the feeling of being in a different country — perhaps also in a different era. 

Women in scarves, a sight more common in Konya
 The biggest reason for visiting Konya was to pay tribute to Rumi and attend the weekly Sama that is performed every Saturday in Konya in what can be called the world’s biggest whirling dervish hall.
We had been told by our travel agent that visitors must buy a 50 Turkish Lira ticket to attend the festival. After reaching the venue, Mevlâna Cultural Centre, we spent the entire day in anxiety, wondering how we will get the tickets or how much will it cost — but to our surprise there was no entry ticket and whosoever goes in first gets the front seat. 
The ceremony started with recitation of the Quranic verses and durood and then moved on to excerpts from Rumi’s masnavis on which the dervishes whirled. In the jam-packed hall, there were people from all the continents. It started slowly but it later picked up the pace and kept the audience captivated.  It was only when the music stopped that we realised a good 90-minutes had passed. 
The origin of Sama is credited to Maulana Rumi, who one day heard the hammering of the gold beater working in the local market and heard the zikr (Zikr of the Almighty) and kalma in the hammering of the people beating the gold. So spellbound in happiness was Maulana Rumi that he just stretched out both of his arms and started spinning in a circle and that is how the practice of Sama and the Mevlevi order were born. 
The annual Urs of Maulana Rumi, or Mevlana Festival as the Turkish people like to call it, falls in December. It runs for two weeks and ends on December 17, Rumi’s death anniversary. Those who want to attend it need to make plans much earlier as more than a million people visit Konya during the festival fortnight. They also need to be prepared for very cold winters and snowfall during that period. 
The weekly Sama ceremony in Konya
Before we attended the ceremony, we spent the day visiting the beautiful Seljuq era mosques and Maualna Rumi’s shrine. Rumi’s Shrine is distinctive with the rose gardens surrounding it and the turquoise minaret atop the mausoleum. I was quite surprised to see a ticket booth at the entrance of the shrine as shrines are considered holy places that are open to all, but found that after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the Turkish government turned mausoleum and the dargah, where dervish disciples used to live, into a museum. It is now called Mevlana Museum, hence the entry ticket. 
The main hall of the tomb with graves of Maulana Rumi, his father, his son and many other contemporary dervishes is a majestic building with high ceilings, silver calligraphy and beautiful wood carving. There is a smaller Tilavet Room next to the main hall that is home to some of the most beautiful, rare and precious examples of Quranic Ottoman calligraphy. It is said that Koran was continuously recited and chanted in the tilavat room before the shrine was turned into a museum.

Rumi’s shrine

The dervishes chambers are turned into museum, and house some of the rarest specimens of Mevlevi order. Some of the rooms display clothes and musical instruments that are used in performance of a Sama such as the mevlana dress, the cymbal, the tambourine, small hand operated drums, the rebab, and the flute, played once by Maulana Rumi himself. Then there were beautiful lamps, reading and writing desks, Maulana Rumi’s dervish clothes, and two specimens of masnavis written by Rumi. 
Besides Rumi, pilgrims to Konya also get to visit the shrine of Shams Tabriz, the shrine of Sadreduddin Konevi and the shrine of Yusuf Atesh-Baz Vali. I was quite surprised to see Shams Tabriz’s tomb inside the shrine because I have seen his tomb in Tabriz (Iran). I later found out that Shams Tabriz has multiple tombs in Tabriz, Konya, Nigde, Hoy and Multan. The one in Konya is called Shams’ post.

A model of what a dervish’s room looked like
 Food, like the rest of Turkey mostly consists of salads and meat. The local specialty of Konya is tanduri mutton and iskandar kebabs. Both dishes are served on the bed of local naans. Konya is also quite famous for Turkey’s carpet trade and locally made carpets and rugs can be purchased at much cheaper prices than in Istanbul.
Local delicacy – Iskandar Kebab

As we had to head back home the very next day, we caught an early morning flight out of Konya and could not see the ruins of the Catal Huyuk which I do regret. After all one does not get to be in the vicinity of places that are about 9000 years old. Those visiting Konya should mark at least half a day to visit the ancient ruins.

First published in The News on Sunday
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  • These damn Iskandar Kababs are so yum that, I am sitting upset over my pickpocketed wallet, and Kamil just forgets everything and goes into Kebab heaven ….!

  • very functional writing. a bit disappointing actually. it is, when you go to turkey and instead of writing a heartfelt account, try covering the bases. you could have done better.

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