Dervish Dance and Photograhy
The September Turkey Photo Tour has been Fully Sold. We will be publishing another edition departing on May 2022. Should you be interest, please join the Interest List at the end of this post.
However, one of our goals on our Turkey photography tour is to strike a balance between our natural curiosity and respect for the local Turkish culture, to which we have unique access.
One of the milestones of our Turkey Photo Tour is the private photo session we will attend in which we will witness an Istanbul whirling dervish ceremony, the very famous Dervish Dance. As a travel photographer, It is important to have previous knowledge of what we are going to attend beyond the mere aesthetic utility.
The dervish dance of Sufi practitioners, is best known in the West through the achievements of the Mevlevi order in Turkey. For years, the order has remained anonymous, performing its ceremonies in the strictest privacy. So much so, that any photographic session or public disclosure of an image of the whirling dervishes must be approached with the utmost discretion and respect.
The Sama – the ceremony where the Dervishes dance and turn – is one of many Sufi ceremonies used to reach religious ecstasy. Men and women gather in a Sama to meditate and dance accompanied by musical instruments such as the tambourine, bells, and flute.
Sufi prayer practice stands in stark contrast to the clear separation of the sexes and the prohibition on music in the mosque.
However, one of our goals on our Turkey photography tour is to strike a balance between our natural curiosity and respect for the local Turkish culture, to which we have unique access. The camera is obviously not the only way to enjoy, even being on a photography tour in Istanbul. A private photo session with Mevlevi Dervish dance performers is or should be, an intimate moment that requires consideration and respect.
Any photographic session or public disclosure of an image of the dervish dance must be approached with the utmost discretion and respect.
Dervish dance and photography protocol in Turkey
Until relatively recently, it was not possible to attend a demonstration in which one could see the whirling dervish, much less attend a photographic session on a photography tour. The Turkish Mevlevi Dervish, are a manifestation of Sufi religiosity and have been banned for years.
With the 1925 reforms that dissolved Turkish Sufi orders and banned their religious practices, many Sufis and fraternities went into hiding, pursuing their practices in total secrecy and forming deep-rooted networks that deployed social activism in the 1950s and beyond.
Sufism is a popular religious movement not only in Turkey but throughout the Islamic world and the Naqshbandi Sufi order is very prevalent in Turkey and has impacted several key political figures.
Every Sufi is a member of an order focused on a grandmaster who is a successor of the Prophet Muhammad and holds considerable power over each member. The orders have an impact on the entire society that they are a part of, not just their members. In Turkey, for example, it is assumed that Sufi ideas influence almost all Muslims’ faith and practice.
It is true that on a photography trip in Turkey we easily enjoy a beautiful photographic image on its own, and in most cases, we do not need to understand what we see or have a deep understanding of what is underlying the photograph. The knowledge of the meaning of a dance or a social manifestation helps to enrich our visual culture. It is not surprising that Turkey photography has only lately promoted -and not much- the dervish dances.
In Turkey, Sufism remains an intellectual, spiritual, and cultural force but not everyone is pleased with its increased visibility. Many Muslim scholars object to the Mevlevi brotherhood (the dervish dancers we are going to see in our private photo session in Istanbul) being used as a promotional tool for Turkey’s tourist board.
It is true that on a photography trip in Turkey we easily enjoy a beautiful photographic image on its own, and in most cases, we do not need to understand what we see or have a deep understanding of what is underlying the photograph. The knowledge of the meaning of a dance or a social manifestation helps to enrich our visual culture.
Sufism: a sensitive photographic approach
Photography is frequently used as an excuse to investigate and witness important human and cultural facts. And photos in Turkey are no exception. Possibly the best and most respectful approach is to act as visitors and respectful travelers rather than as tourists with cameras.
Being aware of the meaning of what is unfolding in front of our eyes increases the pleasure and makes the picture of the trip even more enjoyable. The focus of Sufism is on universal values such as love and compassion, abandoning ego illusions in order to reach God.
Sufis seek a divine connection, which they achieve through self-sacrifice or ecstatic forms of meditation such as speaking or gyrating themselves -the dervish dances- into a trance, Sama, is a most common practice. Dhikr, the individual or collective recitation of litanies composed of supplicatory prayers, Qur’anic passages, and the names of God, is one of these spiritual practices.
They employ discipline and ritual to purify themselves of the seven nefs (the ego-self) that are symbolized by stinginess, malice, pride, greed, envy, backbiting, and lust. Extreme asceticism is used as part of Sufi training to destabilize these negative thoughts and emotions. When the nefs are weak, Sufis can attain fenafillah enlightenment, which is described as “death before death” or “extinction of the self in God.” This is an exhilarating journey into the oneness of creation.
The September Turkey Photo Tour has been Fully Sold. We will be publishing another edition departing on May 2022. Please join our Interest List.