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Whirling Dervishes

One of the interesting side-trips we took in Cairo was to a "show" featuring Whirling Dervishes.

While we all packed into the small hall at the Citadel, sitting on folding chairs, the group played music and drums. It's an odd-sounding music to western ears. Then, the dervishes -- sufi mystics -- began to spin. And spin. And spin. Forty-five minutes. I was really glad that I hadn't eaten first, it made me nauseous to watch!

Whilrling is actually a form of meditation, which is supposed to empty the mind of all thought and bring the whirler closer to an understanding of god. There are many rituals associated with the act, but it was explained to us as an intense, personal expression of faith.

Most of the people performing at the tourist shows are just that -- performers, but the original of the spinning dance is found in the Sufi religion. It was begun by a Sufi mystic named Rumi in the 13th century.Persian poet Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi devised the dances as ritual prayers. The dance is called the Sema and begins with the Dervish extending their arms , the right palm up and the left palm down the power of the heavens enters into the upward extended right palm and passes through the body and leaves the lower left palm to enter into the Earth. The dervish whirls counterclockwise around their stationary left foot -- the left foot should never leave the ground.

The dance mystically represents the revolution of the planets around the sun. When the dancer has reached emptiness or finally succumbs to the dizziness, they fall to the earth and lay face-down, pressed to the ground. The performers add heavy, colorful skirts to the spinning, which they sweep around in patterns.


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