Semah is one of the main twelve services of the cem rituals which
are considered as religious practices by Alevi-Bektaşi-Kızılbaş adherents.
It can be described as a set of mystical and aesthetic
movements in rhythmic harmony performed by
semahcis (semah dancers), accompanied by
zakirs playing the saz (musical performers in cem rituals).
Semahs can be described as a set of mystical and aesthetic body movements in rhythmic
harmony. They constitute one of the twelve main services found in Cem rituals, religious practices
performed by adherents of Alevi-Bektaşi-Kızılbaş, a belief system nourished by a variety
of beliefs and cultural sources. Alevism reached its maturity in Anatolia, Alevi Order has distinguished
itself from mainstream Alevi belief system, with respect to its roots, formation processes
and current cultural background. The Alevi belief system has been enhanced and cultivated
by a great variety of beliefs and cultures in the history of Anatolia.
Semah performers are known as semahcis and they are accompanied by devout musicians
playing the saz, a long-necked lute. Various forms of Semah exist in Alevi communities across
the world, each with distinct musical characteristics and rhythmic structures. One consistent
characteristic is the performance of the ritual by both men and women, side by side. Semah
rituals are founded upon the concept of unity with Hakk (God) as part of a natural cycle: people
come from Hakk and return to Hakk.
There are two forms of Semah: İçeri Semahs (internal semahs) are performed in Cems only
among adherents as part of the twelve services; Dışarı Semahs are performed independent
of services to promote Semah culture to younger generations. Semahs are the most crucial
means for the transmission of the Alevi tradition. All practices, traditional motifs and teachings
are passed on orally, and distinct genres of art and literature associated with the tradition continue
to thrive. In this way, Semahs play a crucial role in fostering and enriching the traditional
music culture of Alevis.
As bearers and practitioners of the semah tradition, Alevi communities are existent all across
UNESCO accepts Semah as a vessel for the expression and manifestation of cultural heritage.
In this way Semah uses:
Oral traditions and expressions, including language as a vehicle of intangible cultural heritage.
Performing arts in the transmission of rhetoric skills through songs recited by zakirs and prayers
uttered by the Dede (spiritual leader).
Social practices, rituals and festive events with regular semah performances in cem rituals.