Sunday, February 21, 2010

Whirling Dervishes and the Sema


"Whirling dervish" just seems like an exotic, mysterious thing, doesn't it? I never knew quite what it was, but when I received this postcard in the mail from one of my favorite Postcrossers, pinuccia, I decided it was time to learn more about it. As my repeat readers will know, I have two favorite posting themes - dances and food. Today, it's a dance.

"Whirling dervish" is a colloquial name for members of the Mevlevi Sufi order, an Islamic sect founded in Konya, Turkey by Celaleddin Mevlana Rumi in 1273. The dancing ritual that the Mevlevi are famous for is called the Sema. Sema represents the mystical journey of man's spiritual ascent through mind and love to "Perfect," the state in which the follower grows through love, deserts his ego, and finds truth. To me, this all sounds
remarkably like Hindu mysticism, which I suppose could have influenced this sect in some respect.

The dance is divided into four parts - a song of praise to the Prophet Mohammad, followed by a bowing process and the removal of the black robes. The main dance, called the Four Selams, consists of the dancers, called semazen, spinning around the Sheikh. The semazen represent the moon, and the Sheikh represents the sun. The semazan spin on their right foot with their right palm facing upward toward heaven and the left hand pointing toward the ground, to represent a sort of communion of heaven and earth, as well as the spiritual ascension that believers experience. The Four Selams represent recognition of God, recognition of unity with God, ecstasy associated total surrender, and peace of heart due to divine unity. The ceremony is concluded with a recitation from the Holy Qu'ran.

From what I gather, the Mevlevi sect was abolished by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and the monasteries were converted to museums. Decades later, the brotherhood was revived by the Turkish government as a "cultural association" - mainly for tourism reasons, I suspect. Now the brotherhood tours the world performing the ceremony.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Olympics time - go USA!


Are you enjoying watching the Olympics? I know I am. Here's a postcard showing the beautiful Eden that is the home of the 2010 Winter Olympics. You can read more about the site of the 2010 Olympics by reading my blog post from December 1.

Keep up to date and support the US Olympic team here.

Saturday, February 6, 2010



To celebrate my first blizzard since moving to Pittsburgh three years ago, I thought I would post a collection of beautiful winter postcards I've received through Postcrossing. Here in Pittsburgh, the world is white, and the city is completely shut down. (In order these cards show: Utrecht, Netherlands; Bavaria, Germany; St. Petersburg, Russia; Kinderdijk, Netherlands; Copenhagen, Denmark; Norway; Germany; and Tallin, Estonia.)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Buddha Says Hello from Hong Kong


This Buddha statue is located at Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island, Hong Kong. His official name is the Tian Tan Buddha, and he was constructed out of bronze in 1993. The rest of the info comes almost directly from Wikipedia:

1. The base is a model of the Altar of Heaven or Earthly Mount Tian Tan, the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. (Hence the name.)
2. It is one of the five large Buddha statues in China.
3. He sits on a lotus throne on top of a three-platform altar.
4. It is surrounded by six smaller bronze statues known as "The Offering of the Six Devas" and are posed offering flowers, incense, lamp, ointment, fruit, and music to the Buddha. These offerings symbolize charity, morality, patience, zeal, meditation, and wisdom, all of which are necessary to enter into nirvana.
5. Buddha is 110 feet (34 meters) tall, and weighs 280 tons (250 metric tons).
6. Buddha's right hand is raised, representing the removal of affliction. Which is perfect, because my friend Iris sent me this postcard to cheer me up after a bad day.

To me, Hong Kong seems like a really fascinating place. As many people know, Hong Kong was a British territory from the mid 1800s until 1997, when governance was formally handed over to the Chinese government. As a result, Hong Kong is a unique blend of East and West - it has one of the world's leading economies, and it is among the healthiest and most well-educated regions in the world. Western institutions like fast food restaurants and a Hollywood-style film industry
are integrated with a very serious belief in feng shui and other folkloric beliefs - for instance, buildings often lack any floor with the number 4 in it, due to its resemblance to the word "die" in the Chinese language.

In Hong Kong, most people speak Cantonese, but English is also an official language, and many people speak it primarily or as a fluent second language. About 95% of Hong Kong's population is of Chinese descent, with small but visible enclaves of Indians, Pakistanis, Nepalese, Vietnamese, Europeans, Japanese, Koreans, and Filipinos. Interestingly, mainland Chinese do not have right of abode in Hong Kong, nor can they enter the territory freely.

About 90% of those living in Hong Kong practice a mix of local religions - mainly Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. About 8% of the population is Christian, and there are smaller groups of Sikhs, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and Baha'i. Religious freedom is guaranteed under the Basic Law.

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