A Guide To 72 Hours In Konya, Trkiye

In search of catharsis and culture through Rumis ancient city of Konya
A dervish performing the sema dance
A dervish performing the sema dance

It&rsquos late afternoon when I reach Konya from Istanbul. The city is a blur in the haze of the setting sun. As we drive out from the airport, there are low-rise buildings, factories, and showrooms of automotive parts on either side of the expressway where Fiats and Renaults rule the roost. At first glimpse, Konya looks every bit like the manufacturing hub it is, and there&rsquos little evidence of the ancient city where the Sufi mystic Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi lived and died. The Mevlana is why I am in Konya for three days to witness the grand celebrations of Seb-I Arus, or &ldquoWedding Night,&rdquo commemorating the spiritual union between Rumi and God. Seb-I Arus, held on December 17 every year, is the most significant event in Konya&rsquos calendar and draws pilgrims and visitors from all over the world.


The next day dawns bright and clear, and like the smog, my mood lifts. We drive towards the city centre through beautiful tree-lined avenues and flower beds, past grand monuments of the Seljuk and Ottoman eras. Our first stop is the Panorama Konya Museum in Karatay, the central district of Konya. If you are curious about the life and times of the Mevlana, this is the place to be. The outer courtyard has multiple miniature replicas of Mevlevi lodges where dervishes of the Mevlevi order would stay and study. Realistic montages show Mevlana&rsquos life from his birth in Balkh in modern-day Afghanistan to his final resting place in Konya, T&uumlrkiye.

The next and most important stop on my itinerary is the Mevlana Museum, the grand Seljuk-era tomb where the Mevlana is interred. There are banners and buntings announcing the Seb-I Arus, and a throng of tourists and pilgrims are already there, even though it is relatively early in the morning. The museum was a Mevlevi lodge for dervishes in the 13th century. 

Before we enter the tomb, we get a plastic covering for our shoes the Muslim women in our group cover their heads. I admire the intricate golden calligraphy on the walls, the still vibrant tiles on the dome, and the ancient Qurans, some so tiny that you can barely see the inscriptions. In the centre is a box that is said to contain strands from the Prophet Mohammed&rsquos beard. Under the dome are the tombs of the Mevlana and his father, Bahaeddin Veled, also a respected Islamic scholar. There are other graves, but those of the Mevlana and his father are the most lavishly decorated with richly embroidered velvet coverings.

While I click pictures, happily playing tourist, many pilgrims look visibly moved. A woman beside me has tears in her eyes as she fervently whispers a prayer. Right next to the Mevlana Museum is the enormous 16th-century Ottoman-era Selimiye Mosque built by Sultan Selim II. The courtyard is filled with people, and there is an air of festivity. The mosque is in busy Karatay and seems a congregation point for families, friends, school children and lovers. But, that&rsquos probably because of Seb-I Arus. I see someone distributing something edible to the pilgrims &ldquoMevlana candy,&rdquo a hard white sugar candy with a faint essence that melts in the mouth.

After spending a few hours exploring the Mevlana Museum and the mosque, it&rsquos time for a late Anatolian lunch at a nearby restaurant built in the rustic style of old Konya houses. The owner ushers us in and seats us at long tables. The walls are adorned with various-sized jars with pickled vegetables like carrots, radishes, onions and chillies. The meal is meat-heavy, mostly lamb, with a yoghurt soup and a baby okra dish in a tomato-based gravy that I will find in most meals. The flatbreads with a topping of mince and cheese are delicious. The meal is washed down with some Turkish tea. We head back to our hotel and freshen up for a meeting with Esin Celebi Bayru, the Vice President of the International Mevlana Foundation. She is the 22nd generation descendant of the Mevlana. She talks to us about the social initiatives the foundation is engaged in and about Rumi&rsquos relevance and gentleteachings in today&rsquos world.


It&rsquos December 17 and the day of the Seb-I Arus. There is a buzz from the morning, and our guides are in a tizzy, briefing us multiple times about where we should assemble, how we should behave, from where we should enter and why we must have our press cards displayed prominently at all times. We get a bit tired of this, but we don&rsquot yet know how big the scale of the celebrations is.

We do not have much planned for the day before the event as the organisers do not want us to get tired. There is a stop at the IRFA cultural centre where we try our hand at various ancient Turkish arts like Ebru and felt-making. To make an Ebru painting, one must float certain pigments on water treated with a specific oil. Swirls are made with a metal tool, and then a piece of paper is gingerly placed on the water. Once the organic colours transfer to the paper, it is lifted to reveal stunning designs.

Research has shown that felt-making has been prevalent in T&uumlrkiye since prehistoric times. We meet one of the last remaining artists practising this traditional craft. Felt is still used in this region to make the typical tall hats of the dervishes, coats, rugs and accessories.


In the evening, we are taken to the Mevlana Cultural Centre, where the Seb-I Arus event will be held. Thousands of people have assembled there, including international delegates and high-ranking officials from the Turkish government. Tonight there will be a special sema ceremony where dervishes of the Mevlevi Order will perform their hypnotic whirling dance to the tune of ney (a type of flute) and kudum (a type of drum), and Rumi&rsquos poetry. The dance of the dervishes signifies the union of the Mevlana with the divine. The ceremony also commemorates the death of Rumi&rsquos mentor, Shams Tabrizi. I get a seat with a clear view of the arena and a pair of headphones to understand the discourses in Turkish.

The programme starts with many speeches by dignitaries, but I am anxious for the dance to begin this is what I have come to Konya for. And then it does. A hush falls over the theatre, and the lights are dimmed as the semazen (dancers) take their place one by one. The music begins, and the dancers start their routine, first with little steps and semi-circles, till the music reaches a crescendo and the dervishes pick up speed and whirl in unison, eyes closed, heads raised, one hand pointing to the skies and another to the floor, in perfect communion with their creator.

Later, when the performance was over, I got to talk to a semazen he seemed exhausted. During our conversation, I discovered he is also a tour guide with the Turkish tourism board. Fluent in English, the handsome semazen explains that performing the sema is a profoundly spiritual act for him with meagre monetary benefits. He, like the others, has trained for years to be a part of the Seb-I Arus celebrations.


After the cathartic experience of the night before, we are headed to a 9,500-year-old Neolithic archaeological site called &Ccedilatalh&oumly&uumlk near Konya. In its heyday, between 7500 BC to 6400 BC, &Ccedilatalh&oumly&uumlk was a thriving urban community of around 8,000 people who lived in proximity to each other in mudbrick homes accessed through openings in the roofs. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, said to have been continuously inhabited for almost 2,000 years.

The chilly December morning started bright and sunny, but a fog descended as we progressed towards &Ccedilatalh&uumly&uumlk, about 40 km away. Much of the journey through the Anatolian plains was shrouded in a haze. However, as we neared our destination, the mist suddenly lifted. The &Ccedilatalh&oumly&uumlk archaeological site, which predates our Indus Valley Civilisation by a few thousand years, is divided into the East Mound and the West Mound, of which only the former is accessible to the public. We made our way to the North Shelter, and what struck me was how the one-room houses were packed together side by side like a warren, with one home leading into the other. A signboard near one of the dwellings informed that much of the city&rsquos daily life played out on the roofs. The living quarters were primarily used to sleep, cook, and bury their dead.


It is our last day in Konya, and the mood in our tour bus is a mix of levity and sadness. We are going to Sille, a village around 10 km from Konya. The landscape changes as we move out of the flatlands of the city. Here hills and rocky outcrops punctuate the large swathes of Anatolian plains. Till about 1922, the village was inhabited by Greeks who had lived in harmony with the Turks of the region for centuries.

However, in the population exchange of 1923, the Christian Greeks were sent to Greece the village is now inhabited by Turks. The village has a charming Mediterranean air with ancient crumbling houses, roadside eateries, cafes, and a clear stream that runs through it. The most prominent monument is the Aya-Elena Church built in 327 AD by Helena, mother of the Byzantine Emperor Constantin, who stopped by Konya on her way to Jerusalem for pilgrimage. The Aya-Elena Church has been renovated impressively and has some interesting artefacts and antiques from the era.

We stop for Turkish coffee and munch on roasted chestnuts by the Sille stream. The sky is brilliant blue, and the air is cold&mdashthe weather reports have predicted snow&mdashand for a moment, I am glad that I am here, far away from India and off the beaten track in this ancient region that is

the cradle of civilisation.

Getting there By Air Turkish Airlines operate regular flights to Konya from Istanbul and other parts of T&uumlrkiye.

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