The Deep Roots of Mevlevi Belief and the Sema Ceremony

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Fotoğraf: Fazlı Yurtsever

Mevlevi, or the Mevlevi Order, is a Sufi order founded in the 13th century by the famous Islamic poet and philosopher Jalal ad-Din Rumi, also known as Mevlana. Rumi’s teachings encompass love, tolerance, and the spiritual journey of the human soul towards closeness to God. The most renowned ritual of this mystical belief is the whirling dance known as “sema.” In this article, we will delve into the origins, history, cultural impacts, and present-day status of Mevlevi belief and the sema ceremony.

Origins and History

The Mevlevi Order is based on the teachings of Jalal ad-Din Rumi, who was born in 1207 in the city of Balkh, now in modern-day Afghanistan, and later migrated with his family to Anatolia. In Konya, Rumi developed his thoughts, which eventually evolved into the Mevlevi Order. Rumi’s poems and “masnavis” are among the fundamental texts of the order.

The origin of the sema ceremony is associated with an incident where Rumi, inspired by the rhythmic sounds of sugar cane sellers in Aleppo, began to whirl around. This spinning movement gradually became a ritualistic form and one of the most important worship practices of the Mevlevi Order.

The Sema Ceremony and Its Meaning

Sema is a form of worship performed by Mevlevi dervishes through rhythmic spinning movements. In this ceremony, the dervishes express their love and devotion to God. The sema ceremony is divided into seven parts, each with its unique significance. At the beginning of the ceremony, the dervishes wear black cloaks, symbolizing the end of worldly life. When these cloaks are removed, white garments are revealed, representing the purification of the soul and its closeness to God.

As the dervishes whirl, their right hands are turned towards the sky and their left hands towards the earth. This symbolizes receiving divine love from God and spreading it to the world. The whirling motion itself represents the cyclicality of the universe and existence.

Cultural Impacts

Mevlevi and the sema ceremony have transcended being merely a religious ritual, becoming a cultural phenomenon. Mevlevi music and the sema dance influenced the Ottoman Empire’s court culture and inspired various art forms. The attire and symbols used by Mevlevi dervishes frequently appeared in Ottoman art.

Mevlevi also left deep marks in literature and poetry. Rumi’s works are considered among the most important classics of world literature and have been translated into many languages. Rumi’s philosophy, based on human love and tolerance, has had a lasting impact on many writers and thinkers.

Mevlevi and Sema Today

Today, Mevlevi is recognized by UNESCO as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Sema ceremonies are performed in various cities in Turkey, particularly in Konya during the annual commemoration of Rumi. Each year on December 17th, the anniversary of Rumi’s death, the Şeb-i Arus ceremonies attract visitors from around the world.

Mevlevi belief and sema continue to garner interest in the modern world. Both academic research and popular culture explore and promote the mystical and artistic aspects of Mevlevi. Additionally, Mevlevi serves as a bridge between different cultures with its messages of peace and tolerance.


Mevlevi and the sema ceremony have symbolized a mystical journey throughout history. Rumi’s teachings narrate the human soul’s journey towards divine love, while the sema ceremony visually and rhythmically expresses this journey. Mevlevi, with its cultural and artistic richness, continues to inspire from the past to the present, offering messages of peace, love, and tolerance to humanity. If you ever find yourself in Konya, do not miss the chance to witness the mesmerizing sema ceremony of the Mevlevi dervishes. This experience will fill your soul with deep peace and tranquility.

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