Spinning Through Time

It was a quiet Tuesday afternoon in the seaside town of Antalya, Turkey. From my sheltered nook in the coffee shop of the Sheraton Voyager Hotel, I could observe the regular comings and goings of the hotel. Suddenly there was a flurry of activity. I heard excited voices echoing in the vast atrium, people began measuring the marble floor of the foyer and marking it with blue tape, a television crew arrived and desk clerks hovered nervously.

It transpired that Ashrita Furman would be attempting an inaugural Guinness World Record: to set a child’s top in motion and keep it spinning, while at the same time flicking it forwards to cover a distance of one mile in the shortest possible time. Perhaps it was something in the image of the whirling dervishes that made this record uniquely appropriate to attempt in Turkey.


Ashrita setting new Guiness World Record

Back in November, while still in New York, Ashrita had broken the Guinness Record for keeping a top spinning for the longest possible time. His new record was seven hours, 1 min and 14sec. Inspired by this simple and also ancient child’s toy, he had approached the Guinness authorities with the suggestion to add a distance category for the spinning top. They approved the idea and set quite stringent rules: the top must remain upright at all times during the records attempt, it could hit a wall or fixed object but not any part of the human anatomy, and it had to go round all the fixed points on an accurately measured course.

One of Ashrita’s friends devised a whisk that comprised a wooden dowel with many strands of string attached to one end. It looked rather like a fly whisk that is frequently seen in Asia. Ashrita used this whisk to flick the spinning top forward several feet at a time. The top itself was made of wood and was a gift to him from Korea. In practice sessions, Ashrita honed his skill with the top until he was able to cover a distance of half a mile. He then decided that he was ready for the record attempt.

The Sheraton Voyager Hotel where Ashrita was staying was uniquely suitable for the record because of its wide curve of polished marble floor. One complete out an back lap measured 410 feet. The major drawback of this course was that in the course of a single lap Ashrita would have to pass by the bank of elevators, the front desk, the revolving doors at the entrance to the hotel, the stairways to the upper and lower levels, the coffee shop and the front of the shopping arcade – surely an invitation for calamity!

Just after 4pm Ashrita meditated for a few moments in silence and then commenced his record attempt. Unfortunately, halfway round the lobby, the top struck the leg of a bystander and he had to go back to the starting point and begin anew. This time, with everybody on full alert, things proceeded smoothly. Ashrita would go down on one knee, flick the top a few feet, then run to catch up with it and repeat the process. It seemed to be such a graceful, even delicate movement, but as time passed, no onlooker could ignore the sheer athleticism that this record exacted, as well as the tremendous concentration and focus that Ashrita had to maintain.

This record, in many ways, was the complete antithesis of so many of his previous records which have involved an element of danger. This applies particularly to juggling underwater in an aquarium that was home to a number of sharks. Spinning a top, on the other hand, charms up because it reminds us of the innocent pastimes of children.
As light began to fade on this Tuesday afternoon, Ashrita embarked on this 26th and final lap. Guests of the hotel watched the unfolding scene from their balconies and Ashrita’s spiritual teacher, Sri Chinmoy, sat near the finishing point to congratulate him on this most remarkable achievement. One last featherweight flick of the whisk and Ashrita crossed the line. His time – one hour, 25 mins and 13 secs will become an inaugural record once it is certified by the Guinness authorities.

To the television crew which interviewed him immediately afterwards, Ashrita confessed that he had lost some of his concentration towards the end of the record. He went on,

”It was getting more difficult to be accurate spinning the top as I went along, but my meditation and Sri Chinmoy coming at the end really helped me a lot. Seeing him gave me a lot of encouragement.

Ashrita thanked the Sheraton Voyager Hotel for granting him permission to do the record in their lobby. He said that the marble floor was perfect, even though the effort of racing after the top and going down on his knees to flick it had left both his knees bruised and scraped.

For myself, I cannot forget the image of the little top rounding the corner where I was sitting, as if it had a life of its own. And I remember the Sufi Master in Istanbul who prefaced the dance of the dervishes by saying. “In the galaxy, everything is whirling.”


Vidagdha Bennett
19 December 2006

Antaylya, Turkey.

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