Semah, Alevi Bektashi Ritual

Discover Turkey and preserve Semah ritual

Cem Ceremony

Semah is described as a set of mystical and aesthetic body movements in harmony with the musical rhythm and lyrics. It is an integral part of the Cem ceremony, which is an Alevi Bektashi worship performance.


Semah is performed by Alevi Bektashi adherents as the essential element in Cem rituals. It can be described as a set of mystical and aesthetic body movements in rhythmic harmony.

Semah performance is one of the twelve services carried out during the Cem ceremony. Cem rituals are religious practices performed by adherents of Alevi Bektashi, a belief system based on admiration for Ali, the fourth caliph after the prophet Mohammed. Various forms of Semah exist in Alevi Bektashi communities across Turkey, 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 God as part of a natural cycle, people come from God and return to God.

Rhythmic Harmony

Semah is performed by Semah dancers, accompanied by devout musicians playing the instrument. At a certain stage of the Cem ceremony, the Alevi imam initiates Semah with a sign. The context of the ritual consists of male and female souls rotating with the love of God accompanied by the music of folk instrument. The movements during the Semah performance have different meanings. The movements have different symbolic meanings such as flying in the sky, spinning like the rotation of the universe, wing flapping like cranes, receiving from God and providing to the people, and sharing.

Alevi Bektashi Tradition

Semah is the most crucial element for the transmission of the Alevi Bektashi 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, Semah plays a important role in fostering and enriching the traditional music culture of Turkey.

UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage

Semah was inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010.

UNESCO Identity Card:

  • Official Name: Semah, Alevi Bektashi Ritual
  • Criteria: Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
  • Date of Inscription: 2010
Cem Ceremony
Cem Ceremony, Imranli, Sivas