Jelaluddin Rumi (r.a.) was born in Balkh, Afghanistan, of a long lineage of scholars, jurists, and theologians. His family fled the Mongol invasions, and settled in Konya (Iconium) in Turkey, then the capital, where he eventually succeeded his father as the head of the medresse, the religious school. This fairly conventional career changed completely when, at the age of thirty-seven, he encountered the wandering mystic, Shams of Tabriz.(r.a.) With Shams, Rumi discovered the inner Friend, the soul, the Beloved, the constant reminder of God's presence. This meeting transformed and illuminated Jelaluddin . From the intensity of love and longing inspired by this encounter, Rumi poured forth an ocean of poetry, the most magnificent works in the Persian language, the 30,000 verses of his "Diwan-i Shams i Tabriz" and his impassioned masterpiece, the 50,000 verse "Mathnawi", which weaves fables, scenes from everyday life, Koranic revelations and exegesis, and metaphysics, into an vast and intricate tapestry. More than a poet or a philosopher, more even than the usual conception of a saint, Rumi was an example of "lnsani kamil" --the perfected or completed human being. In the East, it is said of him, that he was,"not a prophet -- but surely, he has brought a Scripture", and his Mathnawi is held to be second in stature only to Holy Scripture itself. He founded the order of the Mevlevi, the "whirling" dervishes, and created the "Sema", their "turning", sacred dance.
Rumi was not only the dean of the major religious university in the capital of the Seljuk empire, but also one of the greatest philosophers and theologians of the eastern world, in his era and in all time. His monumental corpus includes the greatest works of classical Persian literature, and his volume after volume of brilliant poetry of the mysticism of Love are unsurpassed in Persian, and rarely equalled in any language.
The liturgical musical traditions inspired by Rumi and his disciples are the heart of classical Middle Eastern, Turkish, and Persian music -- both in musical form, and in inspiration, just as the liturgical chants of Saint Gregory and Saint Basil are the heart of Western music.
The religious order founded by Rumi, the Mevlevi, known as the "whirling" dervishes, spread over seven centuries throughout the Eastern world, and his teaching has traveled from Andalusia to Afghanistan, from Egypt to the Balkans. The Mevlevi order is active still, and now in the western world, spreading Rumi's teaching in Europe and the New World. The "Sema", the "Turning", the sacred, whirling dance originated by Rumi, still inspires and enraptures all who witness it, or participate in it.
Rumi wrote and taught of the perfectibility of human life in terms so clear and accessible that his verses are still learned and recited -- and sung as popular songs -- throughout the Farsi speaking world..
Rumi taught that the distinguishing qualities of the Holy Ones that we revere -- the peace and compassion of Buddha, the beauty, honesty, and insight of Joseph, the courage and righteousness of Moses, the wisdom and power of Solomon, the love and healing and self-sacrifice of Jesus, the light and clarity of Muhammed, are all, in fact, not just part of us, but the essence of our own human nature. Rumi presented his teaching with such love, such surrender, with such simple precision that over these seven centuries, listening to Rumi -- a thought, a phrase, an image -- breaks open our hearts.
The Sema has been celebrated since Mevlana's passing on December 17, 1273. Mevlana's realization expresses the source of all religions and spiritual paths -- the Way of Love -- uniting those of many cultures and traditions. Everyone attending the Sema is a participant. As the ceremony unfolds, any apparent distinction between "audience" and "dervish" dissolves as all are attuned, by the music and language of tht Heart, to the baraka (blessing) filled atmosphere of love.
As planets and stars circle the sun, the dervishes turn counterclockwise, both around themselves and around the halka (circle). They turn first with crossed arms; then, taking flight, they open their arms, holding the right hand up and the left hand down, becoming transparent vessels for bringing divine blessings to earth. Pervading the space is "Zikr", the holy name Allah, invoked by everyone. Turning becomes a travel through the universe before God, the spiritual sun of the worlds. The semazens first turn to dissolve their doubts into belief in God's unifying presence. Then, belief deepens, becoming faith, and the semazens scale the heights, to the abode of absolute existence, of Unity. With God's grace, it is here that everyone drinks deeply from the same source of life and love that united Mevlana and Shams hundreds of years ago. The eternal bridge they became, as teacher and student, lover and beloved, still beckons the spiritual traveler who is willing to risk all in its precarious course. Finally, the semazens return to stillness. Surah al Fatiha, the opening chapter of Quran, is reFcited. In unison, the dervishes kiss the floor, and invoke the blessings of God. "As-Salaamu aleikhum" ("God's Peace be with you") echoes through the space. The dervishes intone together the sacred name of God, "Hu", and bow together once again before leaving the sema hall.
Traditional Mevlevi music contains the most important compositions of classical Turkish music, starting with Mevlana, and developing, over centuries, along with the Mevlevi ritual. During the time of Mevlana (as attested in the "Manakib ul Arifin" of Eflaki Dede), his followers gathered for musical and "turning" practices. Mevlana himself was a notable musician, who played the rebab although his favorite instrument was the ney . The music accompanying the traditional ritual consists of settings of poems from Mevlana's "Mathnawi" and "Divan-i-Kebir" or of his son Sultan Veled's poems. (The Mevlevi dervish order was organized on the principles and ideas of Mevlana by his son Sultan Veled and his followers. The traditional Mevlevi ritual, in the form in which it has come down to us, is Sultan Veled's.)
The Mevlevi Order of America, at its annual celebration of Shebi Aruz, presents the classical Mevlevi choral and orchestral compositions. Sheikh Jelaluddin, charged by his father to bring the traditions of the Mevlevis to America, has worked with the many Mitrib (musicians) of the order to develop new expressions for traditional musical themes, using western instruments, melodic forms, and languages. Meetings for Zikr and classes use combinations of traditional and modern melodies and instrumentation, and both classical and new forms may be heard, with songs, chants, and poetry presented n their original Turkish, Persian, or Arabic, as well as translations (and wholly new compositions) in English.
In 1980, Sheikh Jelaluddin Loras began Mevlevi training in Northern California. He was sent to America by his father Hazrat Murshid Suleiman Hayati Dede, Mevlevi Sheikh of Konya, Turkey. Besides the traditional Mevlevi teachings and practices -- "Sema" (the turning ritual), circles for "Zikr Allah" (divine remembrance),and "Sohbet" (sacred discourse), Sheikh Jelaluddin has instituted new expressions of the traditional dervish teachings appropriate to North America.
Besides regular classes, seminars, and public zikr ceremonies, the Mevlevi Order of America produces public celebrations for "Shebi Aruz", the anniversary of Mevlana's passing, on December 17th each year. The semazens ("whirling Dervishes") prepare throughout the year to "receive from God and give to people" -- the sacred responsibility of those who embrace this practice. The "Shebi Aruz" ceremony is offered annually in various American cities, usually on the West Coast. As many as 60 -70 semazens turn, accompanied by a score of Mevlevi musicians. Also participating in the ceremony are Sheikhs and Sheikhas from different Sufi and dervish lineages, as well as senior representatives of other spiritual traditions.
Classes in Sema -- the "Turning"-- are currently held at locations throughout the United States. The practise of "Zikr Allah" -- "Divine Remembrance" is conducted by several circles that also meet regularly. All persons, of whatever religious or spiritual tradition, are welcome to participate in these practises and classes.
For schedules of classes or seminars, please send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to:
Mevlevi Order of America P.O. Box 486 Fairfax CA 94978
The Mevlevi Order of America is a tax-exempt, non profit religious organization.