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The Mevlevis, or widely known as the Whirling Dervishes, are a Sufi order originating from Konya in central Anatolia, Turkey.

Their leader, Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumî, or Mevlana in short, is a poet and theologian from Persian and Turkish origin, who migrated from actual Afghanistan to Konya in the 13th century. He is sometimes referred to as Rumî (Roman), meaning he was from Anatolia, a land which used to be part of the Roman/Byzantine Empires. The order was founded after his death by his followers, focusing on love, tolerance, worship of God, community development, and personal development through self-discipline and responsibility.

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The Mevlevis perform their dhikr (remembrance of God) thru Sema, a dancing ritual involving whirling, from which the order acquired its nickname. The Sema represents a mystical journey of man's spiritual ascent through mind and love to the "Perfection". Turning towards the truth, the follower grows through love, deserts his ego, finds the truth, and arrives at the "Perfection".

The origin of Sema is credited to Mevlana, who, according to the legend, was walking through the town marketplace one day, when he heard the rhythmic hammering of the goldbeaters. It is believed that he heard the dhikr, "There is none worthy of worship but Allah", spoken by the apprentices beating the gold, and was so filled with happiness that he stretched out both of his arms and started spinning in a circle. With that, the practice of Sema and the dervishes of the Mevlevi Order were born, it is said.

The Sema is practised in according to a precisely prescribed symbolic ritual with the dervishes whirling in a circle around their sheikh, who is the only one whirling around his axis. The Sema is performed by spinning on the right foot. The dervishes wear a white gown (symbol of death), a wide black cloak (symbol of the grave) and a tall brown hat (symbol of the tombstone). The symbolism is further accentuated by the position of the hands during the whirling, where the right palm, opened, is turned upwards towards the sky, while the left one downwards towards the earth, meaning “taking from God and giving to this world”. The ceremony’s mystic atmosphere is completed with the accompanying ney, an end-blown flute used prominently in the Middle-East for more than five milleniums.

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The Mevlevi became a well-established Sufi order in the Ottoman Empire by realizing a blood relationship with the Ottoman sultans. Many of the members of the order also served in various official positions of the Caliphate. The centre for the Mevlevi order is in Konya, where Mevlana is buried. There is also a Mevlevi monastery or dergah in Istanbul, near the Galata Tower, where the Sema is performed and accessible to the public.

Outlawed in 1925 along with other sects by the founder of the republic, Ataturk during his secular reforms, the Mevlevis were given partial rights in 1954 to perform sema in public. The order is still active in Turkey, currently led by the 20th great-grandson of Rumî.

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Taken in Acik Saray in Cappadocia. Cropped, converted into b&w, increased sharpness and brightness, applied retouches.

Sources: I , II , III

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Additional Photos by Erdem Kutukoglu (Suppiluliuma) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 260 W: 105 N: 596] (3885)
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