Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Alevi ritual in Istanbul

The Alevi are a religious, sub-ethnic and cultural community in Turkey and many other parts of the world, numbering in the tens of millions. Alevi worship takes place in assembly houses (cemevi) not mosques. World Routes from Radio 3 records an Alevi service about 40 minutes into the recording. The service goes on for over three hours. No one seems to know what quite to make of it.

The ceremony (cem), features music and dance (semah) according to this information. The ceremony's supposed prototype is the Prophet Muhammad's nocturnal ascent into heaven, where he beheld a gathering of forty saints (Kırklar Meclisi), and the Divine Reality made manifest in their leader, Ali.

The Dede is the leader of the Cem who represents Muhammad and Ali. The Dede receives confession from the attendees at the beginning of the ceremony. He also leads funerals, marriage ceremonies and circumcisions. The status of Dede is hereditary and he must be a descendant of Ali and Fatima.
  • Baglama:

During the cem ceremony the ashik plays the Baglama (a stringed musical instrument) whilst singing spiritual songs, some of which are centuries old and well known amongst Alevis. Every song, called a Nefes has spiritual meaning and aims to teach the participants important lessons. One such song goes thus:

"Learn from your mistakes and be knowledgable,
Don't look for faults in others,
Look at 73 different people in the same way,
God loves and created them all, so don't say anything against them."
  • Semah:

A family of ritual dances characterized by turning and swirling, is an inseparable part of any cem. Semah is performed by men and women together, to the accompaniment of the baglama. The dances symbolize (for example) the revolution of the planets around the Sun (by man and woman turning in circles), and the putting off of one’s self and uniting with God.

  • Görgü Cemi:

The Rite of Integration (görgü cemi) is a complex ritual occasion in which a variety of tasks are allotted to incumbents bound together by extrafamilial brotherhood (musahiplik), who undertake a dramatization of unity and integration under the direction of the spiritual leader (dede).

  • Raki:

The love of the creator for the created and vice versa is symbolised in the Cem ceremony by the use of Raki which represents the intoxication of the lover in the beloved. Amongst the 'Nur Hakk' Alevis the raki is replaced with spring water which is sprinkled over the faithful during the ceremony. The sprinkling of spring water or raki during the ceremony is one of the twelve duties of the participants. (see above)

  • Sohbet:

At the closing of the cem ceremony the Baba who leads the ceremony engages the participants in a discussion, this discussion is called a sohbet.

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