The whirling dance- a part of history that has reshaped what honor to God means. Something that started in the 13th century has now spread all over the world. Originated in the city of Konya in Turkey, it was an entirely new display of affection and was known as Sama Ritual. Over the years, the ritual has transformed into what is now known as ‘Sema’. This Turkish religious ceremony is the modern version of what was discovered by the great Jalal-ud-Din Muhammad Rumi to honor Allah. Sema means night of union and is held every year on the anniversary of Jalal-ud-Din Rumi.
This act has a deeper meaning which pursues spiritual perfection and worship of God. The people who perform this act are known as dervishes, they are taught this ritual for 1001 days along with other basic ethics and norms. Only the people who belong to the long chain of Mevlevi order of whirling dancers can perform this dance. Every step of the ritual has its own significance, the whirl starts with the left foot while the right foot gives the propulsion to the 360-degree rotation. As the whirling continues, you’ll notice that the dervishes have their arms open. The right hand towards the sky symbolizes the blessings of God from heavens and the left hand towards the earth symbolizes the giving nature of God to the people. Before the whirling starts, the dervishes have their arms crossed in front of them. This gesture signifies the unity of God. Their white attire represents the ego’s shroud while the hat represents the tombstone of the body. While this may seem meaningless to many, it is a spiritual journey where a man lets go of his personal desires and becomes one with God, a cleansing path to achieve spiritual perfection.
A similar form of ritual is performed in Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine in the Sindh province of Pakistan known as dhamal. The ritual is similar to Sema as it is to honor God but it is different in many small ways. There are drums and horns played at the shrine which create a melody, whereas the dance can be performed by anyone. When the melody starts men and women rise and start dancing. There is no specific movement or rhythm to their dance. All the men, women, and even children just throw their hands in the air, close their eyes, and move their head in an unorthodox way. The unorthodox dancing continues all night till the sun rises. The people are so engrossed in the act that they lose all sense of time.
The dance of the Sufi’s, although with different names and a little variation, mean the same thing around the world- they bring performers closer to God and spiritual perfection.