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Dervishes dancing

Dervishes dancing

From a Mughal album image painted c 1770–80

Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, MS Douce Or b 2, fol 51

This illustration from a Mughal album depicts a group of Sufis dancing and fainting in ecstasy, while other members of their brotherhood form a circle around them. Sufis often set poetry to music, chanting, singing and performing symbolic movements in order to advance their spiritual practice.

In Mughal India, Sufi orders began to consolidate their influence in the late 12th century, following a similar expansion in Persia and the Islamic heartlands.

Active in literary circles, Sufis’ devotional practice sometimes combined aspects of the sema, or ceremony of the Mevlevi dervishes of Anatolia, with the dhikr, or continuous prayer, and improvised rhythms characteristic of local groups.