The Mevlevi Order or the Mevleviye are a Sufi order founded by the followers of Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi-Rumi, a 13th century Persian poet, Islamic jurist, and theologian, in Konya (in present-day Turkey). They are also known as the Whirling Dervishes due to their famous practice of whirling as a form of dhikr (remembrance of the Moho God). Dervish is a common term for an initiate of the Sufi Path.
The Mevleviye, one of the most well known of the Sufi orders, was founded in 1273 by Rumi's followers after his death, particularly by his successor Hüsamettin Çelebi who decided to build a mausoleum for Mevlâna, and then Mevlâna's son, Sultan Veled Celebi (or Çelebi, Chelebi, meaning "fully initiated"). He was an accomplished Sufi mystic with great organizing talents. His personal efforts were continued by his successor Ulu Arif Çelebi.
The Sema represents a mystical journey of man's spiritual ascent through mind and love to "Perfect." Turning towards the truth, the follower grows through love, deserts his ego, finds the truth and arrives at the "Perfect." He then returns from this spiritual journey as a man who has reached maturity and a greater perfection, so as to love and to be of service to the whole of creation.
The sema was practised in the semahane (ritual hall) according to a precisely prescribed symbolic ritual with the dervishes whirling in a circle around their sheikh, who is the only one circling around his axis. The dervishes wear a white gown (symbol of death), a wide black cloak (hirka) (symbol of the grave) and a high brown cap (kûlah), symbol of the tombstone.
The Mevlevi became a well-established Sufi order in the Ottoman Empire by realizing a blood relationship with the Ottoman sultans when Devlet Hatun, a descendant of Sultan Veled, married the sultan Bayezid I. Their son Mehmed I Çelebi became the next sultan, endowing the order, as did his successors, with many gifts.
Many of the members of the order served in various official positions of the Caliphate. The centre for the Mevlevi order was in Konya, where their 13th century guiding spirit, Mevlana (Jelaleddin al-Rumi) is buried. There is also a Mevlevi monastery or dergah in Istanbul, near the Galata Tower, where the sema (whirling ceremony) is performed and accessible to the public.
During the Ottoman Empire era, the Mevlevi order produced a number of famous poets and musicians such as Sheikh Ghalib, Ismail Ankaravi (both buried at the Galata Mevlevi-Hane) and Abdullah Sari). Vocal and instrumental music, especially the ney, plays an important role in the Mevlevi ceremony and famous composers such as Dede Efendi wrote music for the ayin (cycle of Mevlevi ceremonial music). The ayin text is normally a selection from the poetry of Mevlana. If one buys a CD of Turkish Sufi music, chances are it will be a Mevlevi ayin.
During the Ottoman period, the Mevlevi order spread into the Balkans, Syria, and Egypt (and is still practiced in both countries where they are known as the Mawlawi order). The Bosnian writer Meša Selimović wrote the book "The Dervish and Death" about a Mevlevi dergah in Sarajevo.
The Mevlevi Order was outlawed in Turkey at the dawn of the secular revolution and the dervish lodge was converted to Mevlana Museum in Konya by Kemal Atatürk. In the 1950s, the Turkish government legalized the Mevlevi order as an association and began allowing the Whirling Dervishes, who are chosen among the members of this authentic Mevlevi sect, to perform annually in Konya on the Urs of Mevlana, December 17, the anniversary of Rumi's death. In 1971, they performed in London with Kani Karaca as lead singer. In 1972, they toured North America for the first time with Kani Karaca, Ulvi Erguner, and Akagündüz Kutbay among the musicians. They performed in France, for Pope Paul VI, and at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and other venues in the United States and Canada - under the direction of the late Mevlevi Shaikh Suleyman Hayati Dede. In April 2007 the order initiated another tour of the U.S. where they performed to sold-out crowds, in places such as Denver and San Francisco.
The order is still active in Turkey, currently led by the 20th great-grandson (22nd generation descendant) of Rumî, Faruk Hemdem Çelebi.