And now the fun begins. The Semazen drop their black cloaks (known as hirkas) which represent their earthly personality (worldly tombs) while their conical felt hats are their tombstones. With arms crossed and connected at the shoulders with their brothers, each represents the Arabic letter elif that testifies to the Oneness of Allah.
Each Semazen obtains permission to enter the Sema by kissing the leader’s hand and bowing to him and then the first of four separate Semas – each dedicated to a different kind of devotion – begins punctuated in between by having the Semazen cluster in twos and threes on the outside ring of the circle.
While this is a spectator sport, it’s impossible not to get a “contact high” from the smooth, elegant, trancelike dance with the dervishes’ white robes flowing and picking up the various colored lights that shine from above. The moment when their folded arms across their breasts raise to the sky with the right arm facing up to God and the left arm turned down to the earth feels like a flower blooming in the spring.
My personal experience was full of awe. As these individual men morphed into a collective visual symphony, I was struck by the sense of Oneness I felt with them and how that transferred to a Oneness with a higher power. Whether you are religious or not, you can understand Rumi’s words when watching this spectacle: “The real work of religion is permanent astonishment. By that I don’t mean in astonishment turning your back on Him. I mean: blazing in blind ecstasy, drowned in God and drunk on Love.”
Anticipation rises as these dervishes get prepared to whirl.