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With 40 years of experience behind her, Khadija Radin will take classes on whirling dervishes this weekend.
Khadija Radin has been turning since 1971, ever since she saw a Sufi caravan's frenzied whirls on the streets of San Francisco, a sight she describes as "unforgettable and life-changing". Her association with bodily movements has existed before (she was a teacher and choreographer of modern dance), but the incident catapulted her into something else — a spiritual realm perhaps.
"What I was seeing was a vehicle of great liberation, but I couldn't do it," says Radin, of her moment of epiphany. Ever since, she has been seeking the perfect whirl, travelling across the world — to Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India — discovering and studying Sufism. Now, US-born Radin will soon be back in India, this time to conduct workshops on Sufi whirling and meditation, which will take place in Mumbai on January 19 and 20 at the Jivanvikas Sadan at Bandra Bandstand.
Radin has specialised in Mevlevi (also known as "the path to Rumi"), an order of Sufism that originated in Turkey under the teachings of Postneshin Jelaluddin Loras, the founder of its offshoot in the US. She has since been teaching the art, spreading the message and as she says, helping people "look into their own souls". "When you whirl, you form an axis that slowly grows finer. And then you don't just get into this place-less place, you become the place-less place," she says, explaining the ritual known as "whirling dervishes".
The enigma surrounding the act makes it vulnerable to popular misconceptions. The 62-year-old explains, "It is not trance as some people think; there is no dizziness, there shouldn't be. While turning, you should be perfectly in control of your body." This is her fourth year of conducting workshops in India, and the participation hasn't been confined to age or religion. The music and poetry that accompany the whirling dervishes could be Indian, Afghan or American, but in Radin's opinion, a Sufi song is the one that opens one's heart. "Leonard Cohen is a Sufi, if one listens to Love itself, one will know what I mean," she says.