After spending a mere two days in Cappadocia I took a side trip out to Konya for the sole purpose of visiting the Mevlâna Museum, which is the original dervish lodge (tekke) of the Mevlevi order, otherwise known as the whirling dervishes. It also the mausoleum of the posthumous founder of the order: Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi(1207-1274), a Sufi mystic and prolific poet known affectionately in these parts as “Mevlâna.” I considered it a part of my pilgrimage to visit the resting place of one of the world’s greatest poets and teachers of religious and spiritual tolerance.
After a four hour bus ride from Urgup I took the train into the center of Konya and made my way to the site. While walking I met a rug-dealer who spoke to me of his own meditation practice, even pulling out a card with a Buddhist prayer from his wallet to show to me! When we got to the museum he kindly paid for my entry and invited me back to his shop for a cup of tea afterwards.
But who is Mevlâna? A short bit of history is in order: In the year 1207 Rumi was born into a religious family in what is now modern day Tajikistan. When the area became threatened by the Mongol invasions the family moved westwards to Damascus, and then on to the center of the Ottoman empire. As his father was a renowned theologian, scholar, and religious master and was eventually invited by the Seljuk Sultan ‘Ala’ al-Din Kayqubad, to come to Konya to teach. When Rumis father died the Sultan offered his rose gardens for his burial place. It was these rose gardens that one first enters when coming to the museum. Following his father’s death in 1931 Rumi took over his position as a teacher of the madrassa (religious school). However, his Sufi training was not completed, and remained the disciple of one of his father’s students until he also died, in 1240. After that, Rumi’s public life and teaching took off, and in his travels he was to meet the wandering dervish Shams-e Tabrizi, who would forever change Rumi’s life. It is said that when Rumi first met Shams he was so struck with awe that he fell off of his donkey. Whatever it was, his meeting and developing relationship to Shams was to lead Rumi to cast off his public role and take up the life of an ascetic. The two of them would become inseparable, and Rumi was so engaged in this new spiritual love that he completely neglected his own disciples. Jealousies arose and it is said that from time to time Shams would disappear for days or weeks to allow things to cool down. It was during those absences that Rumi began writing his poetry and also started the mystical practice of whirling. Less than five years into their relationship Shams would be called away from a conversation the two were having by a knock at the door of their household, only to never be seen or heard from again. The absence of his beloved friend was enough to push Rumi across a spiritual boundary and it is said that this served as the catalyst for Rumi’s transcendence of his small self for the infinite: the drop of water had become the ocean.Rumi lived for another twenty nine years after Shams’ disappearance, and composed over 3000 ghazals (love poems) to the beloved (even attributing many of them to Shams) as well as other, larger works. When Rumi himself also died in 1273 he was buried next to his father, and one of his successors decided to build a mausoleum over the grave of his master. The Mehvlevi order and lodge was then founded and its leadership continued to be transmitted, mostly from father to son, up to this day (although women were also part of the order). In 1924 and onwards by decree of the great Turkish leader, founder of modern Turkey, and first president, Mustafa Kemal Attaturk, Turkey was to undergo radical reformation: from the abolition of the caliphate to the enforced legal equality of men and women, to the separation of church and state, to the abolition of the Arabic script: all Dervish lodges and tekkes were closed down and turned into museums, and the institutional expression of Sufism was to become illegal, even though social and cultural Sufi groups were permitted to exist. Officially the museum opened on 2 March 1927, and in 1954 was renamed the “Mevlâna Museum.”On display are the original buildings, including the cells of the dervishes as well as the kitchen and training hall (called Matbah). There are cemeteries within the rose gardens and in the middle of the lodge courtyard there is a bathing fountain.
Photo-taking is permitted everywhere except for inside the mausoleum and the small mosque. Inside the mausoleum are the sarcophagi of the Mevlana family (wife and children) and associates as well as a few high ranking officials. Both Rumi and his father are set apart and rest directly beneath the turquoise dome, with Rumi’s Seljuk carved wood sarcophagus directly above his father’s grave. Covered in a brocade embroidered with verses from the Koran it is separated from the main section of the hall by a silver lattice. When I was there the area was packed with pilgrims from what seemed like all over, many of them standing in place before the tomb with eyes closed, faces soft and upturned, hands lifted and open towards the heavens, and lips moving in prayer. The room was filled with the low sound of hushed voices and the shuffling feet of schoolchildren… at least until one of the guards would shout loudly: “”NO PHOTO!”
While it was very crowded, I was mostly able to take my time and have a good walk around. There are life-sized wax figures in the ritual hall as well as in some of the cells, while other cells have many ritual objects and personal effects on display: several instruments used in the Sema (ceremonial whirling), dervish clothing, including the hat and banner of Shams himself, mosque lamps and braziers,Rumi’s own writings and poems, prayer beads, and so forth.
The matbah (training hall and kitchen), also has these wax figures to illustrate life in the lodge. There are also helpful plaques which somewhat explain the process by which one becomes a dervish. Upon first entering the large hall there is a wax novice kneeling on an ancient rug to the side. A new dervish would sit upon this rug for examination. The training of the novices who hoped to become dervishes, which lasted 1001 days, was also done in this building. Before undertaking instruction a potential student would sit upon the rug for three days to observe the training being offered. Only after that would they decide if such a life was appropriate for them. During the 1001 day training period the novice dervish would also take up such chores as chopping wood and carrying water, cleaning the toilets, and so forth. If a dervish were to die while practicing in the order, their body was taken to the matbah for cleaning, and then they would be buried in the cemetery, symbolizing that for the dervish, life begins and ends inside the matbah.
Once the new dervish has completed the 1001 days they are given a cell, out of which they are not allowed to leave except for basic needs for the first three days, nor the lodge for the following eighteen. After that they continue their training in poetry, music, calligraphy and gilding alongside their practice of spiritual discipline and moral development.
When the time came to leave I made my way back into the city center, visited my new rug dealing friend for the cup of tea he invited me to share with him, and walked to a grand statue of Attaturk where I was to catch a bus to the airport. After taking this rather large detour from Cappadocia through Konya on my way back to Istanbul I felt it was well worth the time and effort to visit, and it was a sublime way to conclude my short but intense trip into the heart of Turkey.
I relaxed into my seat on the plane and gazed out on the beautiful land when a particular Mevlâna Rumi poem came to mind. I think it captures a taste of the impetus for this particular point in my pilgrimage:
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
— Jelaluddin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks