Turkey’s whirling dervishes, followers of the 13th-century Islamic scholar, poet and Sufi mystic Mevlana Jalaluddin al-Rumi, will perform their Sema dance without an audience this year in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
Fahri Ozcakil, their spiritual leader, told Anadolu Agency: “Our hearts are with all of Mevlana’s friends. I am sure that Mevlana’s friends will also live this moment spiritually. This year we are experiencing the sadness of being alone.”
In Turkey, Rumi is fondly remembered by his followers as Mevlana — which means scholar. He is buried in Konya, a Turkish city visited by millions of pilgrims every year.
Upon his death in 1273, Rumi’s followers founded the Mevlevi Order, also known as the Order of the Whirling Dervishes, famous for the Sufi dance known as the Sema ceremony.
An indispensable part of the order, Sema is a whirling act accompanied by music and characterized by certain rules.
The ritual begins with Nat-i Sherif, a song in praise of Prophet Mohammad. It is followed by the entrance of the semazens, whirling dervishes performing the dance, with their arms across their chests to the accompaniment of music.
As the semazens begin the whirling ritual, they take off the waistcoat as an indication for stepping into purification, putting the ego aside.
As a ritual full of symbols, everything from acts to clothes bears a meaning in Sema.
The Semahane (dance hall) has a round floor to represent the universe, and the post on which the Sheikh — the leader of the ritual — sits is red as a symbol for the sunset representing the time of the day Rumi united with God.
The post on which a beginner of Mevlevi Order sits on is black. His journey to enlightenment earns him a white post.
Dressed in a symbolic costume of white robes and a tall hat called a “sikke”, the semazens open both arms to the sides and they whirl in a counter-clockwise direction as if embracing the entire universe.
The right hand with an open palm extended upwards indicates reception from God, passage through the heart’s path. The left hand with the palm extended downwards indicates fair distribution among fellow men. At this point, there is also emphasis on the dervish’s dissolving into divine existence.
Finalized with greetings of peace by semazens, the sema usually ends with a recitation of the Holy Quran.
Described as one of the most exquisite ceremonies of spirituality, the whirling of the dervishes is an act of love and faith possessing a highly-structured form.
Sema was declared as one of the “Masterpieces of the Oral and Cultural Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO in 2008.
When Rumi passed away he was laid to rest near his father. The Green Dome, the site of Rumi’s tomb, was built later.
The Mevlana Dervish Convent and Tomb opened in 1926 and became the Mevlana Museum in 1954.
Since 1937, an international commemoration ceremony marking the anniversary of Rumi’s union with God is held in Konya on Dec. 7-17 every year.
*Writing by Seda Sevencan in Ankara
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