For the Sufis, the philosophy of semah is based on the thesis that the act of “turning” is the basis of existence. It represents the human being’s propeller with “love”, just as the electrons, protons, blood in our veins, earth, stars and other planets are in constant cycle. It is a kind of simulation of the fact that man will come from the soil and go to the soil. It represents a person’s turning to the truth and leaving his soul with love, reaching maturity in the way of God and becoming a servant again.
Part of Semah
Sema consists of 7 parts in total and all of them have a meaning. Because it is believed that there are 7 floors between the earth and the sky.
Part 1: In the part called Nat-i Sharif, Hz. Muhammad and all other prophets are praised.
Part 2: With the blow of a kudum (a kind of musical instrument), God’s creation of the universe is symbolized.
Part 3: In this section, the ney, which symbolizes God’s life-giving breath, is heard.
Part 4: Whirling dervishes walk by saluting each other three times.
Part 5: Whirling dervishes take off their cardigans and are born symbolically. Afterwards, they kiss Sheikh Effendi’s hand, get permission for the semah, and make four turns.
Part 6: Verses from the Qur’an’s Surah Al-Baqara are read.
Part 7: The semah ends with prayers and Fatiha. Whirling dervishes rest quietly without speaking.
Symbols of Semah
Every detail in the semah has symbolic meanings. Some of them are as follows:
Whirling: The famous turning movement in the whirling ceremonies symbolizes everything coming from the soil and returning to the soil, and the believer’s return from Allah to himself.
Clothes: The simplicity of the clothes of the whirling dervish also points to the transience of the mortal world and the eternity of the hereafter. The hat on the head of the whirling dervish represents the tombstone of the worldly, and the white “tennure” (a kind of white dress) represents the shroud of worldly things.
The Positions of the Arms and Hands:
- Before starting to turn, the whirling dervishes place their hands on their shoulders in a diagonal manner. When viewed from the side, this figure resembles an elif, which is the first letter of the Arabic alphabet and has a meaning of “unique”. This refers to the uniqueness of God.
- While the whirling dervish turns from right to left with open arms, his right hand looks up for Allah and his left hand looks down to the earth. Here, it is symbolized that he transfers what he received from Allah to worldly life.
Music of Semah
Sema is performed with calm music. This is called Mevlevi Music. In this music, a stringed instrument called the rebap, which is said to be played very well by Rumi himself, the ney, which Rumi resembles to a human being, the kudum, which is a percussion instrument played with two sticks, the bendir, which is a type of tambourine, and the halile played by striking each other are used.
The rebab has a heartfelt voice that resembles a groan. Ney is considered to be the sound state of love, which is the symbol of creation. Kudum is considered at least as sacred as ney. Bendir, on the other hand, is an instrument that must be played on the hand or above the waist level. It is never placed on the knee or taken between the legs. Halile, on the other hand, is a small version of cymbals similar to Mehter music and is played with different contacts such as banging, closing and rubbing.
The musical part of the semah ceremony begins with a long introduction with the ney taksim. As the whirling dervishes walk around the area three times, a peşrev, or “entrance music”, is played. This repeats until the greeting is finished. This part can take up to 20 minutes if there are many whirling dervishes. Then, the 360-degree turns of the whirling dervishes begin. This rotation is repeated a total of 4 times.