By Marisha Karwa
11 Nov 2016
"The world and the galaxy are turning, as do electrons in atoms, so why should we not turn? This turning, from the atom to the galaxy, is harmony. If you harmonise with that harmony, you will not feel dizzy, you will not fall."
That is how Ozata Ayan explains how the 'dancers' maintain their balance during the whirling ceremonies performed by Sufi dervishes. The representative of the Istanbul Historical Turkish Music Ensemble — which will take to the NCPA stage this weekend for its three-day Sufi festival, Sam’aa — explains that Islam has only on tenet: love; and that Sufism is based on the oneness of God (Tevhid or Tawhid).
"Tawhid is the religion's most fundamental concept and holds that God (Allah, literally Al-Illah 'the God') is One and Single. Because of the principle of Tawhid, the Islamic belief in God is considered unitarian," writes Ayan in an email composed in Turkish and translated by the Turkish Consulate General's Mumbai office.
For the Sufis, whirling is a kind of Sema (or Sama) — a worship or physically active meditation. "However, Sema is done by those connected with Allah. You do not connect through Sema, you connect and then do Sema," stresses Ayan.
Pointing out that while the institution of whirling is deeply spiritual, it cannot be dissected — just as one cannot explain why one prefers salad with lemon dressing or salad with balsamic vinegar dressing.
"You have to first learn the religious institution, then Islam, then Sufism, then Tariqat, which is the organised version of Sufism, and then Mevlevi (Rumi) Tariqat," adds Ayan. "Suffice to say that to understand the beauty of Laila, you must become Majnu. It cannot be explained in words."
Even so, he offers a few pointers: There can be no Sema without training and a rigorous education in the way of the Sufis. The dancers have to be informed, reflect upon the knowledge and then practice it. In Islam, men and women worship separately. As such, men and women can both perform the Sema, but not next to each other.
"The ceremony is done in a group, but dervishes can do Sema by themselves," adds Ayan.
"This culture which has been the heritage/legacy of our forefathers has been kept alive through the two institutions established in Istanbul and Konya since 1991," adds Ayan referring to the Istanbul Historical Turkish Music Ensemble's formal grouping by Turkey's Ministry of Culture.
Since then, the Ensemble has been performing at least two Sema ceremonies every month, and have even performed in Delhi on two occasions earlier.
Starting the Sema/Whirling Ceremony
The Sema ceremony follows specific rituals and orders. For instance, the Sema hall is divided in two with the right side representing the material (descent) realm and the left side the spiritual realm (ascent).
The ceremony commences with the recitation of the Naat — a poem that expresses love and respect for the Prophet — followed by the sounding of kettle drums, which represents the Allah's command. A flautist then plays a prelude on a reed flute, the sound of which heralds the Resurrection and Day of Judgement.
The Peshrev begins next during which the Shaikh, who knows the divine path, and the dancers bow to the floor, strike it with their hands and rise to their feet. They then circle the hall three times; the circumambulation symbolises their transition from the material realm to the spiritual realm while the three circuits stand for the three levels of knowledge — knowing, seeing and becoming. The Shaikh and the dancers salute each other and the whirling ceremony commences after the Shaikh takes his position.