Dervish or darvesh refer broadly to a member of a Sufi fraternity or to a religious mendicant, who chose or accepted material poverty. Dervishes’ focus is on the universal values of love and service, and abandoning the illusions of ego. In most Sufi orders, dervishes are known to practice ‘dhikr’ through physical exertions or religious practices in order to attain an ecstatic trance to reach God. Their practices are associated with the 13th-century mystic Rumi. Many dervishes are ascetics who have taken a vow of poverty. Most known in the West are the whirling dervishes of the Mevlevi order. They dance, or rather, whirl until they achieve ecstasy. The ceremony is known as ‘Sama’. Other dervish groups include the Bektashis, who were connected to the janissaries, and the Senussi who are rather orthodox in their beliefs. There are the howling dervishes who achieve ecstasy through howling, or those chanting verses of the Quran, or playing the drums. They all practice meditation and go through severe methods of acceptance in the order. In 1924 Kemal Ataturk ousted the dervishes from Turkey regarding them as a heretic order. They found refuge in Syria and in Cyprus.
Here, on the island, they gathered and performed at the Mevlevi tekke in northern Nicosia. Even today, twice a year, the real dervishes come from Konia and hold two ceremonies in the tekke. They dress in long white robes, which signify purity, and when whirling they have one arm stretched up to the sky, receiving the blessing of Allah; it goes through their heart reaching their other arm which is stretched towards the earth, thus giving the blessing to the people on earth.
The outfit in the photograph can be seen on the third floor of CVAR.
Courtney Stewart Department of Islamic Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art – 2018. Art of the Sufis. www.metmuseum.org