SAMA (2019) is a whirling cosmic journey of ascension, starting from ‘Khaos’, an ocean of unmanifested form, a void state preceding the universe’s birth to the sphere of planets of the solar system, to stars, Primum Mobile and beyond. Sama, is in a sense trying to contribute a response to an age old question: “is it possible to create an artwork that both induces and reproduces a transcendental experience?” Prominent filmmakers like Jordan Belson, Stan Brakhage and James Whitney, all asked this very question through their works. In Sama, both the visuals and the sound of the film are designed in order to encourage the viewer on a state of deep meditation and contemplative trance.
Dante Alighieri, in the Paradiso of his Divine Comedy, described God as a pure light at the Empyrean, which was the place in the highest heaven. Also in the closing sentences of the last Canto (XXXIII) of Paradiso, Dante wrote: “But yet the will rolled onward like a wheel in even motion, by the Love impelled that moves the sun in Heaven and all the stars.” Dante’s understanding relied on the understanding of celestial spheres, or celestial orbs, which were the fundamental categories of the cosmological models developed by Plato, Aristotle and Ptolemy. In this model there are seven spheres; Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, respectively. And one more, eighth sphere for the fixed stars. Beyond this sphere there lies the Primum Mobile (The Unmoved Mover) which sets the outer sphere in motion, and so on through the inner spheres. This understanding pretty much stayed the same until the publishing of “On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres” (1543) by Nicolaus Copernicus.
In essence these same cosmic principles can be observed in Sufi rituals called the Sama. The word “Sama” has several meanings including; an act of listening, journey, sky and heavens. The origination of Sama in the Mevlevi Order of Sufis credited to Rumi who was a 13th-century poet, scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic. The Sama is a Sufi dance ceremony (Dhikr) where a dervish’s body’s repetitive circular and whirling movement parallels the cosmic order and the basic underlying macrocosmic and microcosmic forms that are found in nature. In the state of ecstatic trance (Wajd), the dervish joining the choreography of the cosmos by dancing to its inherent rhythm, hopes to be united with the beloved through divine love, which is the same love that impels the sun and other stars to move, in Dante’s Paradiso. The Sama represents the journey of spiritual ascension through the various spheres to the unity.