Mevlana Rumi and Sema

The following contain the text related to the attributes of the sema that Mevlana performed which have been taken from the 257th, 258th and the 259th pages of the book titled ‘İslam Açısından Müzik ve Sema’ (Music and Sema From the Viewpoint of Islam) by Prof. Dr. Suleyman Uludag:

After the disappearance of Shams (Şems-i Tebrîzî) on the 21st of Shevval 642, Mevlâna ordered a faraji* made from Indian fabric (hindbari) and a cone shaped cap (külah) made from honey coloured wool and he opened the chest of his shirt and tied his tulip shaped turban in a shakaraviz (shakh-aa-raa-whiz) style, wore shoes and boots peculiar to the Mevlevi and racked up the sleeves of his faraja*. He ordered the strings of the rebab to be increased to six, and after the fulfilment of his orders he began the sema.

Three things he liked in the world; sema, sweet syrup (şerbet) and the Turkish bath, hamam. Earlier Shams used to perform the sema in the Iraqi Ajam region (Persian Iraq). Sometimes Mevlâna recited poems and danced with their joy during the sema. When certain sections of the Masnavi were recited the Kavvals* played their instruments and sang songs and he reached ecstasy performing the sema accompanied with his yells; just like himself his disciples also used to let out yells. After the Kavvals retired he used to retreat to a corner and order the people who were present to watch the glory of God in his eyes.

One day, with excitement he entered the room of The Chief Judge (Kadı) İzzeddin and practically dragged him to the gathering of devotees (lovers of Allah) and the judge tore off his clothes and began his sema.

During the sema there were times when Mevlâna said he saw Allah in everything. He used to perform sema for a very long time and people begged him to stop. He also used to start the sema immediately after coming out of the Turkish baths. With joy he whirled and danced from morning to midnight. Sometimes he performed the sema for over a week. While he stayed in Ilgın* it was customary for him to perform the sema for over 40 days.

When he was invited to a house for the sema, he would stand at the door and wait for all of his disciples to enter. Sometimes he used to whirl, then go to the university bare feet and continue the sema he had begun outside in the university. During the sema to turn your back to the other semazen is disrespectful.

Roses brought to him and exciting conversations also served as a means for the commencement of the sema. He used to yell and start the sema. Sometimes he cried out ‘Hayy’ then rise for the sema and people used to stare at him in bewilderment.

During the sema he could write and issue fatwas (religious decrees) and give poetic answers. Sometime during the sema he approached the throne of the Guyendes*, bowed and apologized.

He resuscitated the Neyzen Hamza who was about to die and then continued his sema for three days and when he was ended the Neyzen died. For sema he had a hunchbacked Guyende who used to play instruments and sing songs. While whirling he often handed tips to the people and the Guyendes.

There were times when he stopped the sema and went to the Turkish baths. On other occasions he started the sema in ecstasy then spreading holy knowledge. Sometimes the Guyendes could not catch up with his excessively prolonged sema.

While he was whirling there were times when he used to get cross with people who collided with him as well as times he looked with favour on the collision of people in ecstasy. In the university he was whirling in one corner while the famous poet Fahreddin-i Iraqi was whirling in ecstasy in the other corner.

Sometimes the sema began when friends came over, sometimes he fell ill due to his excessive sema. When he reached a joyful mood (mast) during the sema, he used the grab the Kavvals or his son Sultan Veled and then recite the salawat and return to the whirling.

In Mevlâna’s most famous semas he move in synchronicity with the hammer beating sounds coming from the jewellery shop of Selahaddin Zerkubi and the sound of a rebab coming from an ale house.

Due to excessive sema he often forgot his sexual desires. He made Zeki, the Kavval play as soon as he arrived and began whirling. When he was finished he got a chest massage.

During the sema his hand went out of his hemline and he threw money on the Daf (tambourine with jingles) of the Guyendes. In the orchestra there were substitute Guyendes and Neyzens. We know also of woman Daf players and woman Neyzens.

Mevlâna was seen to perform the sema after a cold bath and apart from this he used to begin the sema after long periods of hunger reciting the words “ el-cu sümme rücu “ ( hunger and then return is to Allah ). In rare moments he whirled while bare naked, after having given his clothes to the Kavvals save for a shirt covering his back. The people around him covered him with clothing made of expensive fabrics.

Sometimes the wives of the notables of the time participated in the sema. He whirled with the songs and the instruments, the Daf playing Guyendes and the Neyzens and these ladies used to scatter rose petals on the head of His Holiness Mevlâna.

He used to go to the Turkish baths and after he returned to the university  begin the sema.

There were people who tore their clothes amongst the people who whirled with him and who performed the sema on their own. When he heard of the demise of Shams (Şems-i Tebrîzî) he whirled while reciting odes in the form of elegies. He used to attempt to whirl during weddings. When Selahaddin Zerkubi was called to the presence of the ruler of the time he reached ecstasy and whirled in his presence. We also understand that some sections of the Masnavi were created during the sema.
* Faraji = Torn robe of the Mevlevi order

* Faraja = (Light blue) dervish mantle

* Kavval = Name of the Musicians of the Chishtî order.

* Ilgın = Town near Konya

* Guyende = Musician (especially Daf players) of the Mevlevi order.