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Mevlana

Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi (Jalaluddin Rumi) is one of the great spiritual masters and poetical geniuses of mankind and was the founder of the Mevlevi Sufi order, a leading mystical brotherhood of Islam. He was born in Balkh (Afghanistan) in 1207 to a family of learned Persian theologians. His father was a distinguished teacher and had been honored with the title of Lord of Scholars. Escaping the Mongol invasion, Rumi and his family traveled various places and finally settled in Konya (Central Anatolia) where he succeeded his father in 1231 as professor in religious sciences. He had an extensive understanding of all aspects of philosophy and has an avid reader of the works of classical authors. In 1244, he met a ragged dervish, Şemseddin Tebrizi (Shamsuddin of Tabriz) who asked him a number of searching questions. They quickly became close friends and spent days and weeks together in philosophical discussion. His love and his grief for the mysterious death of Şems found their expression in a surge of music, dance and lyric poems, Divani Şamsi Tabrizi.

Then Hüsameddin Çelebi helped him to continue his philosophical speculations. He inspired him to write his greatest work, the Mesnevi. It was a collection of 25.600 poems in 6 volumes. Mevlana died on December 17, 1273 and was buried in Konya, and a tomb was built upon his sarcophagus. Ever since, that night was named Şeb-i Aruz (Night of Union) and Mevlevi Dervishes perform Sema shows.

His Views

His influence on thought, literature and all forms of aesthetic expression in the world of Islam cannot be overrated. Mevlana was a man of love and affection. His aim was unification with God. According to him God could not fit into the universe but fit into the heart. Therefore we have to tend to the heart and not to reason.

"Come, come again, whoever, whatever you may be, come:
Heathen, fire-worshipper, sinful of idolatry, come.
Come even if you have broken your penitence a hundred times,
Ours is not the portal of despair and misery, come."

Mevlevi Order

The Mevlevi is an Islamic mystical order founded by the followers and devoted companions of Mevlana after his death. Mevlana, during his lifetime, was never the head of an order, nor did he himself found the order as such, and he did not establish the brotherhood. It was, however, his mystic approach that brought together a group of people in search of a way of enlightenment through a unique combination of philosophy and mystic love. The order was gradually brought into being through the efforts of his son and his grandson to maintain a community of followers, by attaching method and regulations to his ideas. It was a synthesis of spiritual love attained by a combination of music and dance that was considered to be the basic requirement for spiritual ecstasy and devotion. Over the centuries, the Whirling Dervishes spread from Turkey to Yugoslavia, and from Egypt to India and today have centers in more than 75 cities worldwide.

Whirling Dervishes - The Sema

The hauntingly beautiful Sema, rite of communal recitation practiced by the Mevlevis was traditionally performed in the Semahane. It symbolized the attainment of the various levels of mystical union with God and of absolute perfection through spiritual fervor and controlled ecstasy. According to Mevlana, with the Sema, dervishes can reach out and touch the "ultimate".

The music of the sema is generally conducted by the chief drummer. Percussion accompaniment is supplied by the kudums (small kettledrums) and cymbals; melody is provided by the Ney (reed flute), the string instruments and the voice. The words and even syllables of the poetry are connected to the musical sentences. "Dervish music cannot be written in notes. Notes do not include the soul of the dervish."

The steps of the way to union with the Divine are performed according to strict rules. Within a circle the sheikh stands at the post (sheepskin). It is the highest spiritual position, marked by a red rug indicating the direction of Mecca. Red is the color of union and of the visible world. There are 24 colors of union and of the manifested world. The musicians' platform faces the sheikh; the whirling dervishes take their places to his left. During the performance, Dervishes wear long white robes with full skirts, representing their shroud. These are covered by black a cloak that represents their tomb and wear large, conical hats made of camel's hair representing a tombstone. Upon removal of the cloak at the beginning of the ceremony, the Dervish becomes spiritually reborn to the truth.

The dervishes turn timelessly and effortlessly. They whirl, turning round on their own axis and moving also in orbit. The right hand is turned up towards heaven to receive God's overflowing mercy that passes through the heart and is transmitted to earth with the down turned left hand. While one foot remains firmly on the ground, the other crosses it and propels the dancer round. The rising and falling of the right foot is kept constant by the inner rhythmic repetition of the name of God Allah-Al-lah, Al-lah. The ceremony can be seen as a great crescendo in three stages: knowing God, seeing God and uniting with God.


Further reading

The Life and Work of Jalaluddin Rumi Afzal Iqbal, (August 1999) Oxford University Press

I am Wind You are Fire: The Life and Work of Rumi Annemarie Schimmel, (December 1992) Shambhala Publications

Rumi – Past and Presenet, East and West by Franklin D. Lewis Published 2000 Oneworld Publications

The Rumi Collection: An Anthology of Translations of Mevlana Jalaluddign Rumi by Kabir Helminski (Editor), Andrew Harvey (Introduction). Paperback (November 2000)

Masnavi, by Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi, et al. Mass Market Paperback (January 1993)




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