“Everyone talked about separation, while I talked about the ultimate union. My death is my wedding day.” Mawlana Jalāl ad-Dīn Rūmī
Tonight I am at a special wedding. I am at Sheb-i Arus, organized in memory of the night Mawlana Jalal ad-Dīn Rumi, who put Divine Love, sympathy, and peace into hearts, died or, as he de ned it, his “Wedding Night.”
While the wind from the whirling dervishes brushes against my face and my soul, I think of the following quote by Rumi, the great scholar, poet, thinker, and Sufi. I wonder if anyone else bequeathed the belief, “My death is my wedding day”?
According to Rumi, who illuminated the paths of our lives with his exemplary life, his thoughts that embrace all times, and his literary works, all things in the universe, living or lifeless, are in a uniquely connected order. And the main keystone to this unique order, which God recreates every passing moment is love. In this limitless and endless affinity between everything, death is not an ending but a valuable beginning. It is for the soul to escape from the body which serves as a prison, and to reunite with its home, with its Beloved, and be born into the spiritual world. Instead of being sad about death, one should celebrate like it like a wedding, because to be sad in God’s presence is not appropriate for a human, who is a small universe in him/herself.
When Rumi died in 1273 in Konya, his funeral was more like a wedding celebration attended not only by Muslims but also people of different religions, races, and sects who all prayed in their own traditions and sang religious songs.
This year, the 746th year of the Vuslat (Ultimate Union), the Sultan of Hearts was not remembered with love only in Konya, but all over the world. Prayers are being recited, songs are being sung, and the cries of “Allah” from the hearts are fulfilling Rumi’s bequest.
The sema (whirling dervishes ceremony) that are known as a Mevlevi tradition were, in fact, recorded in sources predating Rumi. This tradition was performed during the time of Rumi with enthusiasm and without any rules. Later on, with Rumi’s son Sultan Veled, grandson Ulu Arif Çelebi, and Pir Adil Çelebi, it was brought under a discipline with training, specific clothing, music, location, and many other details. As a result of the collaboration of the International Mevlana Foundation and UNESCO, in 2008, this tradition was included in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List.
While watching the dervishes, I close my eyes from the soothing effects of the music. In every cell of my body I feel as if I’ve come into existence in another firmament. I am encompassed by a little excitement, happiness, and a little sadness. Maybe this is the path of seeking and finding mentioned at Mathnawi written by Rumi. When I open my eyes, I envision that a similar order, existent in the constantly recreated universe described by Rumi, is present in this ceremony.
If you ever attend a sema ceremony, I suggest that you observe it while keeping in mind the information I am about to share with you. So you will be a part of the ceremony, and can even find yourself whirling secretly inside.
In a sema ceremony everything has its own meaning. The semahane (where the ceremony takes place) represents the universe and is designed in a circle. Sema is revolving around in this universe with love for the Beloved. The dervishes who perform this undergo difficult training. This training does not only teach the whirling ritual but also the ability to whirl with love within life itself. In short, for the dervish, sema is the spiritual journey of life.
The ceremony begins with the musicians (mutrip) and dervishes saluting the sheikh’s pelt and taking their positions. This is followed by the sheikh entering the room and taking his place on the pelt. The sheikh’s pelt is red, the color of vuslat, the reunion with God. The sheikh sits on the pelt and represents Rumi.
The black cardigan of the dervishes’ costumes represents the grave, the white tenure (the white long clothing) represents purity, and the sikke (camel hair hat) represents the oneness of God and the gravestone of the human soul. Although these may appear to represent “death,” it is in fact about humans, the most honorable of living creatures, escaping from worldly pleasures and desires, and the remembrance of the Creator with every cell of the body; their ascension and rebirth.
The position the dervish takes before the ceremony begins with his arms crossed across his chest with hands touching each shoulder. This represents the letter “alif ” in the writing of Allah in Arabic, and the position the dervish takes while whirling with his arms wide open on both sides represents the letter “la” in Arabic, meaning “no, or there is no” from “La Ilahe Illallah” (There is no God other than Allah).
The dervish whirling from right to left, that is towards the heart, represents him embracing the universe with his whole heart; his right palm being open to the sky represents what he receives from God, and his left palm facing downwards represents him distributing this to the community.
Stamping the feet represents crushing the limitless and insatiable desires of the ego, and defeating the ego. The right foot is called the çark (propeller) while the left foot is called the direk (pole). This whirling is called “çark atma” (to complete a turn). The dervish, in the rst half of the turn pronounces “Al,” and “lah” in the second half rhythmically from within. In the Mevlevi order the term “turning” does not exist; dervishes perform the sema (whirling).
In the ceremony that consists of seven parts, all of these parts have a different, deep Su meaning. The ceremony begins with Buhûrîzâde Mustafa Itrî Efendi’s poem “Nat-ı Şerif ” which praises the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). This is followed by the kudüm (drums). This represents the Creator’s command “be” to the universe. And the ney ( ute) transition represents the “divine breath” of the Creator that gave love to everything. With the beginning of the prelude, the sheikh and the dervishes go around the ceremony ring from right to left three times. Following this walk called “Devr-i Veled,” which represents the greeting of souls and the preparation for a spiritual journey, the dervishes take o their cardigans. This represents the stripping of worldly a airs and being reborn into the truth. The dervishes receive permission by kissing the sheikh’s hand, then the four-salutation sema ritual begins.
Each salutation represents the four levels in the journey of becoming the “perfect” human being: (1) Sharia (Islamic Law); (2) Tariqat (Spiritual Path); (3) Marifah (Knowledge); (4) Haqiqah (Truth). The music changes with each salutation and the special rhythms take the dervishes through these levels into a state of love. At the end of these salutations, the dervishes come together which symbolizes solidarity. Oneness is unique to the Creator.
The first salutation expresses the human’s birth into knowledge and understanding of the Creator and his own servitude; the second salutation expresses the admiration before God’s greatness and power; the third salutation expresses the mind giving into love and total submission, with admiration and gratitude turning into love; the fourth salutation expresses the human’s completion of the spiritual journey and return to the servanthood (of God). In this last salutation, the sheikh enters the sema without taking o his cardigan or opening his arms. When the sheikh takes his seat again, after reciting prayers for all the prophets, believers, and peace, and hues of “Hu,” a name of God, the ceremony ends. First the sheikh, then the dervishes, and the musicians salute the sheikh’s pelt, and leave the room. There is no applause after the sema ceremony, because it is a form of worship.
As I leave quietly at the end of the ceremony, I look around. There is an expression of peace on the people’s faces. Clearly the ceremony was a means of a new beginning for the audience, like it was for me.