MANJULA KUMAR (Program Manager, Smithsonian Institute): There are stories about the origins of the whirling dervishes and one of the stories is Rumi was walking towards, just walking down and he heard the call for prayer and he was so overwhelmed, he was almost in an ecstasy to hear the call for prayer that he started moving around and he called it a divine ecstasy. And since then his followers started making this whirling.

It's creating an atmosphere to pray and it's an offering I think it's just a physical way of expressing this love for the divine and that's how they kind of twirl and in the whirling it becomes a meditation.

It's an ecstatic state, but over the years it's become an art form. They do not call it a performance. I would not call it a performance. It is a spiritual offering.

This became a symbol of believing in beyond religion, beyond the rituals, beyond the fundamental beliefs of Islam.

It continues to evolve, it continues to grow, but I want to just make a very clear distinction that everyone today will say Sufism, the term, is not a religion, it is a philosophy, a belief and the commonalities, whether one is a Muslim, a Hindu, a Jew or a Sikh or a Christian, the commonality is the looking for love, peace, harmony of coming together in unison as a voice.

Sufi Whirling Dervishes

Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam, emphasizes universal love, peace, acceptance of various spiritual paths and a mystical union with the divine. It is associated with the dancing of whirling dervishes, who originated in the 13th century as followers of the poet and Muslim mystic, Rumi. Their dance is a traditional form of Sufi worship, a continuous twirling with one hand pointed upward reaching for the divine and the other hand pointed toward the ground. Manjula Kumar, a program manager at the Smithsonian Institution, explains how the dancing of these whirling dervishes from Turkey serves as “a spiritual offering.” They were part of a Smithsonian symposium on the concept of Sufism and searching for the divine through the arts. Produced, edited, and interview by Lauren Talley.