“Sema is to struggle with the notion of one’s self, like a dying, bloodstained bird, fluttering in the dust.” -Jalaluddin Rumi.
The Sema turning ceremony of the Mevlevi Sufis was developed in the thirteenth century by the great Sufi master, Jalaluddin Rumi. One of the tales of its origins goes that Rumi was walking in the marketplace when he heard goldbeaters rhythmically chanting praises of Allah as they hammered. It is said that he was filled with such happiness that he turned ecstatically in circles with outstretched arms. Another story says that Shams Tabrisi, the great spiritual friend of Rumi, taught him the practice of turning to the accompaniment of music, poetry and chanting as a form of absorption in the Divine. Founded by Rumi’s son, Sultan Valad, the Mevlevi Order of Sufis has passed down the tradition of the Sema ceremony for over seven hundred years. Recognizing the cultural importance of the ritual, UNESCO declared it a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2005.
In the photo essay Meditation in Motion, Kabir Helminksi, well-known author, teacher and shaikh of the Mevlevi Order, offers an insider’s guide to the elegant and symbolically charged turning ceremony as practiced today. Helminski’s clear prose provides a step-by-step description of the stages of the ritual, explaining choreographic, musical and textual elements in the context of their spiritual significance.
Read the entire article in issue 85 SUFI.