The Mevlevi are 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. It was, however, his mystic approach which brought together a group of people in search of a way to enlightenment through a unique combination of philosophy and mystic love. The order was gradually brought into being through the efforts of his son Sultan Veled and his grandson Ulu Arif Celebi to maintain a community of followers, by attaching method and regulations to his ideas. First the Mevlevi tended to gather around the tomb of Mevlana in Konya, but later branches of the order were founded in cities throughout Anatolia. By the beginning of the 16th century, convents were being opened throughout Ottoman territory. The Mevlevi school of thought constituted an independent branch of Turkish-Islamic philosophy, and the order produced masters in all branches of the arts.
In essence, the order derived its rites, moral code and discipline from the mystical path first shown by Mevlana, whom the Mevlevi regarded as their first peer, or spiritual leader. The basic characteristics of the order were its unusual rites, in which freedom of thought was encouraged within the framework of Islamic belief. It was an approach entirely free of fanaticism, and expressed itself in a synthesis of spiritual love attained by a combination of music and dance. Both music and dance were considered the basic requirements for the attainment of the ultimate spiritual devotion and ecstasy.
Every aspect of being a Mevlevi is reflected in the language and rituals of the dervishes. The spiritual message is discernable both in the costume of a dervish, in his daily activities whether in the convent kitchen or in his own cell, in his communications with other members of the order, in his ritual dancing -sema -and instrumental skill, in short, every part of a dervish’s life was governed by rigid rites and practices. These rites and practices were developed over the history of the order, and it is they which form the basis of the principles of being a Mevlevi as we now understand it. Adherence to these rules was essential for the members of the order, and any behaviour considered contrary to them endangered the dervishhood of a member. No-one could hope to join the order without the strictest observance of them being their main initial aim.