The image of the whirling dervish, robed in simplicity and steeped in an otherworldly reverence to the creator, is one that has trickled into the mainstream appreciation of Sufism in recent times.
The ethereal sight of the dancers known as Semazen evokes a sense of rapture and tranquility at odds with the chaos of modern existence and it was a similar ambivalence that filled the halls of Marriott Hotel, Thursday, as the Istanbul Historical Turkish Music Ensemble enlightened a sizable Islamabad audience with Ayin-i-Cem-a dense glimpse into the time-old Sema ritual.
The dancers circled the hall thrice, each circle representing a level of knowledge in Sufi teaching. PHOTOS: MYRA IQBAL/EXPRESS
The opulence of the hall was transformed into a bare austere Semahane (the space that contains the performance), except for a red sheepskin, upon which the leader of the cohort known as the Post-Nisheen took seat, divided from the other dancers through an imagined line, almost like an equator that represented the divine and infinite path to an alternative reality. In this way, the Semahane was split in two halves: descent and material realm on the right end and ascent and spiritual dominion on the left end. The red sheepskin spoke of the manifestation of God to man and the Post-Nisheen donned the spirit of Jalaluddin Rumi.
The ritual began with humility; the dancers entered with their arms across their chests and hands on either shoulders and a poem expressing love for Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was chanted, the haunting timbres of which settled upon the audience. This was followed with a prelude, during which the flautist reenacted the trumpet that heralds the day of judgment, evoking breath which signals life. A 28-beat instrumental known as Peshrev stirred movement in the dancers, who bowed to the floor and struck it with their hands, rising to Allah’s command, “Be!” whilst suggesting resurrection from the grave.
The dancers circled the hall thrice, each circle representing a level of knowledge in Sufi teaching — knowing, seeing and becoming — elevating from the material to the spiritual and bowing to one another in relating connection between souls. The ceremony consisted of four stages of Selam, where the dancers disrobed from black to white in what symbolised a spiritual birth.
The first stage recognised the attainment of Shariah — one of the divine laws of Sufism — during which the human being becomes aware of his creator, and of his own vulnerability and inherent subservience. The ensuing stage expressed a state of awe in the presence of Allah, and the dancers were seen gripped in the grandeur of His existence. In the third Selam, this awe transformed into love and surrender of intellect in the path of true love. It is in this moment that the dancers become nothing; it was an utter cessation of self, after which, the fourth Selam completed the spiritual journey, hushing the attained sense of exuberance through the pace of the music which limited itself to a single musician.
“It was an overpowering experience,” expressed an attendee, Waqas Qureshi, who praised the transformative power of the ritual. “I felt absorbed in the energy of the dancers,” he added.
An entirely unique opportunity to experience the ritual outside of its historic setting in Turkey, the event was pulled off by the Turkish Embassy under the aegis of the Turkish Ambassador, H E Sadik Babur Girgin.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 19th, 2014.
Like Life & Style on Facebook, follow @ETLifeandStyle on Twitter for the latest in fashion, gossip and entertainment.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ