The following is a personal and subjective impression.
A Personal Memory of the ''Urs* of Hazrat Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi in Konya (May Allah ever
(*also called ''Urs, or in Konya the 'Festival')
December 9th - 17th 2001
The 'festival' celebrations of the death anniversary of Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi in Konya,
Turkey, attracted, as ever, throngs of people from around the world to enjoy his hospitality
and to receive the blessings of the saint so beloved of God.
Unusually, on this occasion I was accompanied by my wife Farhana - and at the last
moment by Safraz Elvy, a person much fond of Zahurmian, who travelled with us.
I have been asked by Mohammed Siraj of Holland to write in more detail of the festival -
so I have expanded my usual brief report to satisfy his curiosity and enthusiastic interest
and perhaps that of others. Hopefully it will convey a subjective impression.
Konya is a town of about a million inhabitants in Anatolia, Central Turkey. It stretches over
an extensive area, and now that the main bus terminal is relocated towards the edge we
were surprised by length of the ride into the centre in the minibus provided by the coach
company. Our arrival at the Hotel Dergah allowed us our first glimpse of the shrine which
is situated diagonally opposite the Hotel. It looked inspiring and welcoming in the cold
Once settled in the hotel we rested a short while and were then able to make our way along
the main Caddesi, past the array of interesting carpet shop, past the banks and the
underground gold jewelry shops, the Hamam (Turkish Baths) and a beautiful ancient
mosque, to the shrine of Hazrat Shemsuddin of Tabriz, in order to make our respectful
Selams (as the Turks spell it).
Hazrat Shems shrine is located in what used to be a Sema-Hane (room for performance of
the whirling dervish dance) and is now a mosque. As far as I can understand from old
photographs the facade of the building is relatively new. Their is a pleasant garden around
it that once used to be a graveyard.
Inside the atmosphere is calm and reverential. The shrine is immediately ahead as one
enters the door. The tomb is covered by a green cloth cover and surmounted by a large
turban in the Mevlevi style. It is on a raised platform. During our many visits over the
period of the ''Urs the shrine frequently became busy as many visitors poured in - but it
never lost its atmosphere of calm and peace. There is a place for ladies to offer Namaz
upstairs and having offered her fatiha for Hazrat Shems, Farhana did not delay in also
offering her Namaz there. The hall is maintained by a caretaker and as I am a frequent
visitor later on in the stay he showed the usual Turkish hospitality - inviting me in to his
small room for a cup of tea and an attempt at conversation using my few Turkish words and
bits of other languages.
After that we were free to make our way back to the hotel and thence to visit Mevlana's
shrine to pay our respects. On the way we bumped into old friends such as Abdullah our
English speaking taxi driver friend and Tahir who owns a small shop. Having visited a
number of times now it is always pleasant to meet again familiar faces and warm hearts.
For the first time this year the shrine, which is officially designated as a museum requiring
admission payment, was free for entry during the ten days of the Festival, which is a
magnanimous and much appreciated show of respect by the government agency.
Passing across the marble courtyard, overlooked by the distinctive turquoise tiled dome
and an impressive minaret, and leaving ones shoes at the appropriate place, one comes to
the main entry through magnificent large double doors. Beyond a small vestibule previously
used for Qur'anic recitation and now housing notable examples of calligraphy, is the main
shrine room. On the right hand side there are numerous (65 according to the guide book)
shrines raised two or three feet above the floor level and fenced and cordoned off. Each
grave of the male Mevlevi successors is marked with the traditional Mevlevi head dress
distinguishing them from the wives and daughters also buried there. Passing by these
reverentially at the far end of the magnificently decorated high room, set back a little, one
comes across the largest, most magnificent, and sumptuously decorated shrine of Mevlana
himself. It is distinguished by appearing to have two turbans. In fact the shrine of Mevlana's
son and the successor of Hussamuddin Chelebi, Sultan Veled is also there.
Most of the time a recording of sonorous Mevlevi music is played.
In front of the shrine there is a 'silver screen' and also a marble screen. Below these there
is a silver plated step on which the followers and lover's of Mevlana used to rub their
forehead and kiss. This is now cordoned off but is opened for this purpose at the time of the
'Dua Torreni' on the 17th December.
It might be appropriate here to point out that though Mevlana Rumi is generally known in
the west simply by the epithet Rumi (which means Anatolian) or in the east as Maulana
Rumi, in Turkey he is universally referred to as Mevlana (the Turkish spelling of Maulana -
which means 'Our Master'). Of course he has a number of other epithets such as 'Sultan of
Though there are normally many visitors and guided tours, the lovers of Mevlana and those
with intentions of pilgrimage stop and make reverential fatiha and prayers. Having made
fatiha and paid our reverential respects to Mevlana on this occasion we also turned to do
same for the other souls whose graves lie therein.
On the left side one notices some separate graves similarly marked by turbans. According
to legend these are shrines for soldiers who accompanied Mevlana and his father from
There are two further accessible rooms inside the shrine complex. These were later
additions - one a semahana (Samakhana to those more familiar with Indian spelling) where
the Sema or whirling dance took place and the other a Mosque. There are numerous
exhibits of interest including early copies of the Qur'an and Masnevi, and prayer carpets,
the head dress of Shemsuddin Tabrizi and a casket containing a hair from the beard of the
holy Prophet himself. There is also a gigantic tasbih.
Having taken our leave of Mevlana we exited to the courtyard and I went to sit on a
favourite seat whilst Farhana had some other business - almost immediately I met a young
Turkish student with whom I had been in prolonged e-mail contact over her thesis. We had
said we hoped to meet at some point during our visit and there she was already - but in
Konya especially at festival time one learns to accept such 'chance' meetings. Perhaps it is
something to do with dynamic meeting of Shems and Mevlana that makes this a time and
place of meetings, some of them reverberating in significance beyond their brevity.
In the courtyard there is a small pool known as the wedding night pool and also an ornate
Following this I went to visit the shrine of Hazrat Nuri Baba or Hajji Baba as he is
frequently known in Konya. He is buried in the very large cemetery opposite the shrine of
Mevlana. It was due to an Uwaisi contact with him that I first came to Konya. My meetings
with him were brief and lasted over a period of two years but I had come to love and
respect him as a true Sufi Sheykh and Guide and like Zahurmian he remains with me.
Though I normally visit the other shrines in Konya by dolmish (Turkish minibus) or even by
foot, Farhana currently suffers from difficulty in walking far due to a bad leg so we
arranged with my friend Abdullah to take us in his taxi for 'ziyarat'. We visited the shrine of
Sadreduddin Konevi which is attached to a small Mosque. Sadreduddin was a disciple of
Sheykh ul-Akbar' Hazrat ibn Arabi and he was a contemporary of Mevlana. His shrine is
situated just off of the main commercial centre of the city.
Following this we also visited the shrine of Yusuf Atesh-Baz Veli situated off the main
road leading to Mehram and discovered that there had been renovation work recently
unearthing the lower part of the shrine. Atesh means 'fire' and the main story associated
with this disciple and cook of Mevlana is that, hearing of the approach of Mevlana, he
hurried to prepare food. Finding himself short of firewood he put his own foot in the fire to
burn. He was miraculously unharmed by this except for a burn to the toe. Feeling guilty at
this as evidencing an imperfection in his faith he attempted to hide the toe from Mevlana by
covering with the other foot. This it is said is the origin of the custom of the Mevlevi's
placing one foot over the other when making a ritual bow. with the arms crossed. It is
traditional to take a little salt when visiting.
We moved on through the delightful orchards to Mehram a beautiful wooded hill about 7
miles from the Konya centre. It was favourite place of Mevlana and boasts, as well as a
delightful stream and water wheel, an ancient Hamam (Turkish Bath) that has been
converted into a restaurant. We visited the shrine of Tavus Baba who may in fact have been
a women (and therefore 'Tavus Ana'). We also visited the shrine of Camel Ali Dede
Our visit was during Ramadhan and Abdullah invited us to his family home to partake of
the Iftar meal for breaking the fast. We also met Turkish lady currently living in America,
and her son. We had enjoyable conversations on topics of therapy, the use of music etc.
Abdullah's parents, wife, sisters and his children were so hospitable to us - plying us with
delicious Turkish food. Though it was Farhana's first time in Turkey she was soon made to
feel at home. We also paid our respects at the shrine of the doctor of Mevlana situated
within a few yards of Abdullah's flat.
The pattern during the days that followed was of a visit to the shrine of Shems in the
morning - allowing opportunity for peaceful contemplation, followed by visiting the many
other sites of interest and then a visit to Mevlana's shrine in the afternoon. New to me was a
colourful recent erection to mark the actual spot where Shemsuddin of Tabriz and Mevlana
are thought to have had their first memorable meeting.
Following this we went to the Dergah of Nuri Baba where Ali Baba, his successor, greeted
us warmly. We partook of the Iftar with a huge variety of people from - it seemed - most
corners of the globe. Some were well known faces and others were newcomers I had not
met before. The traditions of the Konyan Sufis is to sit on the floor around raised huge
metal trays as large as big tables. There are no separate plates but we all dip into the
various dishes amongst which plates of steaming pizza, meat and rice etc. were memorable.
Following the food we placed our hands on the circular tray and took part in a brief Zhikr -
La-ilaha ilallah, followed by Ilallaah, followed by Allah and culminating in Hu. This was
completed by Qur'anic recital and Fatiha. Following the Namaz (ritual prayer), tea was
served in the small glasses as is the Turkish custom. Then there was playing of the Ney and
other instruments such as the large kuddum (drum). People with musical knowledge reading
this will I hope forgive my lack of technical expertise in describing the music making.
Verses in Turkish were sung and some at least were the verses of Yunus Emre. Zhikr
seemed to merge in with this and would soon become quite vigorous. At certain points
people would make respectful bows to the photo of Nuri Baba and to Ali Baba and then
begin to 'turn' or whirl in the Mevlevi fashion. The Zhikr often became so vigorous that
small towels were distributed to the participants to remove the sweat.
Though the Zhikr continued till eleven pm or later most evenings, Farhana and I left before
8pm to catch the main performance of Sema that took place in the large sports stadium
about three kilometres from Mevlana's tomb. The usual programmes were a little altered as
the festival coincided with the end of Ramadan and the celebration of Eid (Bayram) which
took place just the day before the Seb-i-Urus (the Night of Union). Nevertheless we
managed to attend this four times during the festival period.
The actual performance of the full Sema ritual was preceded by a music recitation
involving a music ensemble and choir. The songs, though in Turkish, contained praises of
Allah, His Prophet and Mevlana and Shems that were recognisable. There was a formal
introduction in English and Turkish and a brief theatrical demonstration of the influence of
Mevlana and the Sufis on the culture and learning of Turkey.
The main event is of breathtaking beauty and grace that quite make one forget the
'culturalisation' or even commercialisation of what is essentially a spiritual ritual.
There are accounts of the exact implications of the various parts of the ritual that I will not
duplicate here but would be happy to pass on to anyone interested. From my point of view
it was both exactly the same each time and also entirely different. To me it spoke of many
things including Fana and Baqa.
This year the happy event of Eid-ul-fitr came just two days before the 'Night of Union' so
the occasions almost seemed to run into one another. I attended the Eid prayers in the large
16th century Selimye Mosque. It was a matter of surprise to me that the custom of
embracing after the Eidgarh prayers was not followed as it is in the subcontinent of India.
and in England.
The high point and focus of interest is of course the 17th December itself. During the
afternoon the throngs of people entering the shrine of Mevlana increases to the point that it
is no longer possible for much movement. All the space inside becomes full and I suspect
there are people outside too. These are generally not disinterested tourists but Mevlana
lovers. At the foot of the shrine Qur'anic recital and prayers including Fatiha are said. This
lasts for perhaps twenty minutes. Once the leaders of this have completed the ritual and the
descendants of Mevlana have kissed the silver plated step then the public are allowed to do
In the evening the last Sema is held at the sports hall and this televised event is much sought
after and tickets almost impossible to get. The atmosphere is, so to say, supercharged and
the performance of great power.
I think many people attending from outside will share the feeling of great love and
sociability that the festival exudes and which is attributable to the divinely inspired Master
and Sheykh, the exemplar of the Sufis and the inspiration of lovers, - I mean of course
Hazrat Mevlana Jelaluddin Muhammed bin Muhammed al-Balkhi al-Rumi - may Almighty
God bless him and his descendants and followers.
Staying a few yards down the corridor from us were two of the blood descendants of
Mevlana and it was a great honour for us when the Hotel manager, Ramadhan invited us
into his office to meet them. And how can I forget meeting Kevin (Karim) from England
who has been visiting Konya for the past twenty years who carries with him the inner
serenity so typical of the Mevlevis.
I have only touched lightly on the many meetings, inspired talk and moving music and the
many 'little miracles' as Safraz described them, that seem to occur in an atmosphere as
difficult to define and yet as palpable as sweetness in sugar.
To the Sufis the reality of the presence of the great Sheykh and his survival beyond death
goes beyond the merely spiritual.
Following the great night of course people soon began to leave - I believe there is a poem
of Saadi which says:
'The musicians left and the Sufis are absorbed in music still,
Love has a beginning but no end can there ever be.'
As is customary with me we stayed on, enjoying the atmosphere, taking opportunities to
explore other aspects of Konya and Turkish life. A visit to the local academy of fine arts
for a lesson in calligraphic excellence and many surprising insights into Turkish life and
culture for me - including a visit to a therapy centre - and opportunity to visit the many
excellent local jewellers for Farhana. Gold smithing was a tradition in Konya at the time of
Mevlana and Farhana was impressed by the extensive underground market that had only
shops selling gold jewelry! And of course there are always the ubiquitous and wonderful
carpet shops with their splendid kilims, and carpets.
A meal at a new restaurant adjacent to Mevlana's shrine as the guests of Dr Nermin who
Farhana had befriended at the Dergah of Nuri Baba. A visit to their impeccably clean and
refined house showed me a side of Turkish life I had not seen before and gave a chance for
discussions with an Iranian war reporter.
A final evening of farewells at the Dergah with the promise of renewed meetings next year
the opportunity to thank effusively Ali Baba and the members of the order for their
overwhelming hospitality and courtesy which never fails to impress and delight.
Another visit to Abdullah's house for an excellent meal and the delightful company of his
family was included.
People from so many countries (there were more than 300 people from Iran alone, 60 from
Bulgaria) had a chance to share the culture of love and joy in various ways that reverberate
from the intense love of Mevlana. For all the events we did manage to attend there were of
course many we could not.
The Turkish people of Konya (Konyadan) showed their gracious hospitality in so many
ways that one can hardly thank them enough for the grace and culture, civility and good
manners. When the train with our comfortable couchette, so kindly arranged by Abdullah,
pulled out of Konya station we knew we had been more than blessed.
Jamiluddin Morris Zahuri
January 1st 2001
Postscript: A number of people showed a surprising interest in the above impression. I have been asked
about the 'Turning' of the Mevlevi I will add this short note.
I do not have first hand experience of the effect of 'turning' as practised by the Mevlevi Sufis other than as
a spectator but I am not unfamiliar with the ecstatic 'dance' in the Chishti Order so I will offer the following
The discipline required to prepare oneself for the ecstatic whirling amongst the Chishti Sufis is that of
utmost restraint. The music of the Qwaal is particularly intense and enthusiastic and it is demanded of one
that one yield inwardly to the fervour of the music and verse and at the same time resist the impulse to
move or demonstrate enthusiasm outwardly. Discipline is maintained even by physical prompts from
those assigned this task. At a certain point when time and circumstance and conditions seem to conspire
this resistance is swept aside and the devotee no longer has control of his own movements. This results
in a sudden and intense turning of the body in which the individual takes no conscious part. It frequently
only lasts a minute or less and is terminated by the body being flung to the ground. At this time the other
Sufis stand. If or when any sign of conscious volition on the part of the Sufi concerned is detected the
dance or attempted dance is terminated. This hal (state) is credited to the perfection of the spiritual guide
of the one experiencing it. Those experienced in such states know that it can be manifest in different ways
from the one described.
Amongst the Mevlevi, as I understand it, turning is taught even to youngsters as a skill to be practised with
quite distinct steps and of course the full Sema as performed in Konya is a complete ritual by no means
limited to the turning. However turning is also practised to the accompaniment of Zhikr and music in the
smaller gatherings. During the festival at least I have observed considerable tolerance by the Sufis of
people especially non-Turks 'having a go' at this. I do not suppose that this occurs necessarily at other
times but it may do. Certainly the Zhikr accompanying this is energetic and arousing.
Looking however at the formal ritual as presented in the main Sema in the spor salonu at Konya I am
struck by what appears to me a different approach to the Hal (state). The music is solemn and stately by
comparison with the frenetic energy of the qwaals of India and Pakistan, or even the Zhikr in smaller
gatherings in Turkey. It seems to me that the dancers too may be searching for hal but in this case it is
preceded by the turning and it is perfect turning, or rather the grace that brings about the hal of perfect
turning, that is sought. Since any change of state is not manifested outwardly as different from the turning
of all others it is perhaps reasonable to assume that the hal is essentially inward. Presumably the
discipline lies precisely in maintaining the turning whilst the state descends.
Zahurmian is reported to have said that the Mevlevi dance was founded on the 'turning' or moving around
of Mevlana during the inspiration when receiving the Masnevi.
I can only think that as with the Chishti 'turning' the discipline is necessary as a vehicle but is left behind
when the Sufi reaches the goal, and that there is no mechanistic relationship between the discipline and
the goal. One may turn for a lifetime and never really know the turning.
It may also be worth reflecting that such states are anyway far from being the goal of Sufism and may be
considered as simply being a byproduct. I do not think it is helpful, and indeed it may be a hindrance, to
concentrate much on such things.
However by way of a footnote to this postscript it may be worth pointing out that there is a branch of
modern therapy known as 'sensory integration' which posits that there is a part of the mid-brain (the
deepest and most primitive part of the central nervous system) that is linked to vestibular stimulation -
which incorporates circular spinning. Certainly there are people with learning disabilities/ intellectual
handicaps, and also some children, who avidly seek this particular type of stimulation. But that, and its
relationship to Sufi turning, is, so speak, an article waiting to be written.
Published by The Zahuri Sufi Web Site January 2002