Located in a 550 year-old bathhouse turned theater in Sirecki, Hodjapasha tops the list of venues in Istanbul to watch a Whirling Dervish performance. Be sure to arrive early to enjoy a free, non-alcoholic drink in the foyer and to explore the impressive exhibition of dervish culture.
The history of the dervishes and the unique atmosphere of Hodjapasha cultural center will create wonderful memories and Rumi’s philosophy might even provoke great insights – starting a positive change.
The staff speak fluent English and besides the ceremony, there’s also an impressive exhibition of dervish culture, which is an absolute must see for the full experience.
It’s also hard to walk past by the building as the entrance is neon lighted and inviting tourists inside.
It’s definitely worth arriving early before the ceremony, especially to explore the exhibition and enjoy a free drink.
The exhibition contains dervish cultural artifacts, such as clothing, accessories, books and hyper-realistic statues.
There are also interactive boards with Sufi music samples, Rumi poems and other information that will provide a better understanding of the upcoming ceremony. It is also a great idea to read about Rumi’s philosophy.
Taking the time, to learn about dervish culture and beliefs will make your experience more vivid and provide a greater understanding of the dervish whirling, as the ceremony can be quite mystical without prior knowledge.
To make you feel welcome the personal serves free refreshing drinks, such as water, fruit drinks and tea (coffee costs 5 Turkish Liras) during the exhibition.
Foyer staff will also guide you through the experience and gladly answer any questions you might have.
After the exhibition, everyone is invited to the room for the ceremony.
Many first-time visitors are surprised when entering the room as it’s unlike any other theater or performance rooms.
Instead of a large hall, it’s a small oval room with chairs along the walls, all around. It even has the bath handles, that remind of its history as an ancient bathhouse.
The small size of the room makes the experience even more impressive. The whirling dervishes are so close to the audience, that the wind from their spinning can actually be felt in the air.
Philosophy of Rumi
Before visiting the ceremony, it’s great to have a basic understanding of where the dervish roots are and what is the philosophy behind their ceremony.
This is not an entertaining performance that starts with loud music and dervishes whirling. Instead, the ceremony is started with a video introduction to the philosophy of Rumi.
It’s informative, interesting and explains complex ideas of the dervish philosophy in a simple way. This is done to enhance the experience – by explaining the philosophy behind the ceremony.
It’s important to understand, that dervishes are not performing for the audience, but rather going on their personal spiritual journey and letting the audience be present. Complete silence and uninterrupted presence are expected.
After the introduction, the ceremony is started with a collection of Sufi musical instruments, which many of the visitors describe as never seen or heard before. The music stays through the entire ceremony.
Then the dervishes enter the room. Cloaked in black, they start the ceremony with prayers and heads bowed. They kneel down in respect, to get up again and greet each other with a bow.
At this point, the audience is fascinated by the mysterious experience they’re witnessing. Silence and calmness have taken over the room.
After the greeting dervishes free themselves of the black cloaks and slowly start taking their positions – with small, gentle steps. It starts slow and gentle counter-clockwise spin until they gain momentum and their arms raise towards the ceiling – making the skirts rise and flair. With their heads bowed and tranquil faces, they seem as transcended into another plane of consciousness.
Although dervish whirling might look like a performance, it’s a spiritual ceremony. Dervishes dedicate their lives to seek and establish unity with God. And according to dervishes it’s done through worship, prayers, Sufi music called “ayin” and the whirling dance ceremony (Sema). Rumi followers preach charity, tolerance, and love. And according to Rumi, meditation, music, and dance are the ways of uniting with God.
The whole performance lasts about an hour. To ensure the audience can follow through the mystical experience – each part is described and explained.
It’s nearly impossible to not be amazed by the unique ceremony. Especially clothing – the black cloaks, white skirts, and long headdress. Which all have deep, symbolic meanings.
The headdress (kulah or sikke) represents the tombstone of the ego and the white dress (tennure) represents the shroud of the ego. Removing the black cloak is the start of the journey towards the oneness with God.
In a sentence, their clothing symbolizes the transcendence of the ego on their journey – uniting with God.
Whirling consists of four stages of the transformative journey – uniting with God. Whirling with their arms crossed on the chest represents the submission to the unity with God.
When the right hand is faced toward the sky and the left hand is faced towards the earth, they are receiving the spiritual gift from the god and sending it to the people.
As believed by dervishes: “From God, we receive to humanity we give.”
Currently, the dervish whirling has been declared as UNESCO Heritage of Humanity. It’s taught by universities and cultural organizations to preserve it and transfer to the next generations.
The Whirling Dervish Ceremony is over 800 years old and its roots lie in the Mevlevi Order and Sufism. Dervishes (also called Sufis) follow Islamic theologian, poet and spiritual master (Sufi) called Jelaleddin Rumi (or Mevlana).
In the 13th-century, the Mevlevi order and whirling ceremony (Sema) was created in the Turkish city of Konya. In 1925 The Mevlevi Order was banned, but in 1954, they were allowed to do their ceremonies in public and been regularly doing them since then.
It’s also important to keep in mind that complete silence is expected in the ceremony and it’s not allowed to take photos.
Access to Hodjapasha is by stairs, therefore not accessible for the disabled. There is also no extra storage for luggage or other personal items other than on your lap or under your chair.
During spring, summer and fall, the Whirling Dervishes performances takes place every day at 7:00 PM.
You should however, arrive by 6:00 PM to enjoy to Dervishes exhibition and to guaranteee a good seat.
During winter performances are only held three days a week on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday with the same start time of 7:00 PM.
Whirling Dervishes shows are one of the most popular activities in Istanbul. With only 150 tickets available at the Hodjapasha for each performance, they tend to sell out rather quickly.
You can purchase whirling Dervishes tickets online up unitl 2:00 PM on the day of the show, but in general you should be them at least 2 or 3 days prior to show.
If you need a specific date for your show, especially on Friday, Saturday or Sunday night you should book your tickets well in advance.
Hodjapasha Cultural Center
Address: Ankara Caddesi Hocapaşa Hamamı Sok No: 3.B, Sirkeci, Istanbul, Turkey
Tel: +90 212 511 46 26 | +90 212 511 46 36
GMS: +90 541 252 09 92
Fax: +90 212 511 46 86
The Hodjapasha Cultural Center is located in the Eminönü district (the heart of Istanbul), close to and West of Sirecki Train Station and the stunning Topkapi Palace.