Everything in the universe, from atoms to the solar system and to the blood which circulates in the body, revolves. Therefore, Sema Ceremony is a ritual, a spiritual journey which the soul makes to God as it becomes mature and attains unity. After this journey of whirling dervishes, it returns to its life and to serve humankind again.
In dervish lodges, flutists, drummers, chanters and choir compromise of a band called “Mutrip”. Semahane (it is the place where Sema ceremony is performed) locates in front of the Mutriphane. Directly across from the entrance to the Semahane, there is the Sheikh post. The line assumed to be between the post and the entrance is called “Hatt-I Istiva”. This the shortest way through the unity is going to the truth. The Sheikh is the only person to tread on this line during the ritual. The Sheikh represents Mevlana. The post is the greatest spiritual level. With its red color, it represents birth and existence.
Sema Ceremony compromises of seven parts.
1st part: After mutrip, whirling dervishes and sheikh take their places in the post. Chanter recites “Nat-i Sherif” . Composed by Itri, this work praises the Prophet Mohammed.
2nd part: Following the chant, a drum voice is heard, symbolizing the order “Be”.
3rd part: Then, the Ney (a kind of flute) improvisation starts. Ney represents the first breath which gives life to the universe.
4th part: Upon the completion of the improvisation, “Devr-I Veled starts with the accompaniment of “peshrev”. The Sheikh and the Whirling Dervishes revolve for three times in the Semahane with the music. The first revolution tells the creation of the sun, the moon, stars and non-living things by God. And then, the second revolution tells the creation of the plants and the third revolution tells the creation of the animals. While passing the post during “Devr-I Veled; the whirling dervishes plead with each other and prostrate themselves before the hearts of each other.
5th part: Taking his place in the post after Devr-i Veled, the sheikh meets with the whirling dervishes who remove their coats as the first salute of the ritual begins, and then the whirling dervishes start to revolve. This represents the birth of humanity. The whirling dervishes wear a special costume symbolizing the death of ego. The sikke represents the tombstone, the coat represents the tomb, and the tennure represents the shroud. The whirling dervishes’ cross the arms across their chests while they enter the circle. So, they look like a “number one”, attesting the Unity of God in this position. As the Whirling begins, they extend their arms with their right hand opened upward and the left hand turned downward meaning
“We receive from God and we give to human; we keep nothing to ourselves”.
The whirling dervishes revolve both around their own axes and around the circle, just as planets revolve both around their own axes and also sun.
1st salute: Sema is a means for humans to reach Divine Reality and an intoxication of the soul. The first cycle of the Sema is to view the words. It is the way to reach the grandeur and majesty of God. During the first salute, lovers get rid of doubts and attest the Unity of God.
2nd Salute: The second salute is to dissolve the entire existence in this Divine Unity.
3rd Salute: In the third salute, lovers cleanse themselves and reach the level of “maturity”.
4th Salute: In the forth salute, the ultimate union of “nonexistence” in “existence” is reached. In this salute, Sheikh also enters the Sema. Revolving at the heart of the whirling dervishes in Hatt-I Istiva, the sheikh opens his coat with his right hand and clasps the two edges of his coat with his left hand, demonstrating that he opens his heart to all people.
6th part: The sheikh returns to his post with the ney improvisation. The ritual continues with a reading of the Quran: “The East and the West belong to God and wherever you turn, you are faced with Him. He is All-Embracing, All-Knowing”(Bakara Sur’a 2, verse 115)
7th part: The Sema ends with Fatiha Sura for the souls of all prophets, our martyrs and all believers and a prayer for the salvation of our country…
Thus, the journey ends. But, as a matter of fact, it is only a part of spiritual journey which those who follow Hz. Mevlana, those who pursue love and those who seek the Divine within themselves take in every minute of their lives. With the words of Mevlana:
“When you enter the Sema, you will leave both of the worlds; this world of the Sema is outside of both worlds.”
Mevlevi Sema Ceremony is proclaimed as an INTANGIBLE WORLD HERITAGE OF UNESCO in 2005 in traditional performing art social practices themes. So, If you ask, we can add this Sema Ceremony to our guided tour Istanbul program. It is one of highlights in Istanbul day trips.