This weekend we went to Konya for the celebration of Rumi’s 739th “wedding night.” We had several run-ins with the sema ceremony, which includes music, prayer, recitation of poetry, and dancing. First, we visited Rumi’s tomb in the afternoon, where we sat on the floor in between many Turkish women as we waited for the sema to start. At this afternoon sema, there were five very young dervishes accompanied by an older dervish, and the whole ceremony was watched over by a sheikh who knelt on a red fur mat.
Our tour guide, Mehmet Ali Bey, has a cousin living in Konya who is a practicing dervish. We were invited to his home, where he taught us the basic beliefs of Sufiism – he repeated over and over the idea of “one.” We struggle when our minds try to conceive of the world as two, or three, or four – when our mind submits to our heart, we realize the oneness of the world and our souls. It was very warm during his presentation, as I had a large cup of apple tea and was sitting by the stove – but I was forced to wake up when I participated in a mock sema. We learned some of the ins and outs of the sema – like the dervish must kiss his black cloak and hat before the ceremony, the dervish stops at the dividing line of the circle of the ceremony to say “Hu” and bow, and the right hand faces upward as thought it as grabbing an apple while the left hand is oriented toward the ground. Everything is about balance (while spinning, it’s helpful to look at one’s index finger to avoid dizziness).
After our attempt at sema, we had dinner at a fancy place with lovely tablewear and made our way to the Konya Cultural Center for the official sema. Except, the sema started a lot later than we anticipated – we were in our seats by 7:30 or so, but had to listen to an hour of speeches and singing before the actual ceremony began. The whole thing was incredibly beautiful, especially the music – there was a band of dervishes playing a variety of instruments and singing as the other dervishes knelt, bowed, prayed, and whirled. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to see this ceremony, especially for the anniversary of Rumi’s death. It was a great honor to learn firsthand from a man practicing this tradition in Turkey about Sufiism, Rumi’s philosophy, and the sema ceremony.