Who is Mevlana?
What is Çelebi?
The discipline of Mevlevi Order was established by Mevlevi’s son Sultan Veled, his disciple Chalabi Husameddin, and his grandson Ulu Arif Chalabi in order to pass on his teachings to future generations. Ever since then, the “order” has been presided over by a Makam Chalabi (Chief Master) elected from among Mevlana’s offspring.
The Mevlevi life is based on “adab and erkan” (discipline and rules of conduct). In their conduct, they are very kind, graceful, and discreet and they never go to extremes in behaviour or in speech. In salute, they place their right hand on their heart and incline their head slightly, implying “you are in my heart”. Even their handshake is peculiar to their discipline. They seize and kiss the back of each others hands, indicating mutual respect and equality. This is a greeting from ”soul to soul” and denotes equality of existence. Every part of the Mevlevi system of behavior bears a symbolical meaning, such as taking soft steps or showing respect to their daily appliances, and they can be observed in the act of the whirling dervishes in ‘Sema’ rituals, which are considered an extension of their daily lives.
The Mausoleum and the Mevlevihane are both regarded as “cult” by Mevlevi followers. This initial “House”, located around the Mausoleum, has been named Asitane-i Aliyye, where “Makam” Chalabis (chief masters) have dwelled.
The Mevlevihanes have been divided into two kinds: “Asitanes, which are authorized to give education for up to a 1001 days and secondly, Zaviyes”, which are relatively smaller and have no network for education. The former kind was more central, systematic, and better organized. Dedes could only be educated here and the architectural structure called Matbah-i Sherif, where the period of sufferance for a 1001 days was finalised. The postnishins in Asitanes held a higher status than those in Zaviyes. Zaviyes were founded in many cities and even in the villages of the Ottoman Empire. Up to the 17th century Zaviyes spread in accordance with the expanding boundaries of the Empire and were, therefore, able to educate wider circles. There were approximately 140 Mevlevihanes within the boundaries of the Empire.
The education in Islamic Mysticism was a harder task than the Medrese (theological university) education. This spiritual journey, called Seyru Seluk, also had to include “self-discipline”. Whosoever wished to enter this order of education was obliged to have parental permission, hold his majority, and be unmarried. The candidate, having been approved as bearing the appropriate character traits, was then informed of the difficulties along the path he was about to take. Upon his persistence, he would be seated at the place known as Saka Postu in the Matbah-i Sherif (kitchen) for theree days, observing the way of life in the House of Order. He was given food and water, but no one spoke to him so as to avoid any influence. In the case of a change of heart owing to mismatch on his part, he could leave without a word. However, if he decided to stay he would be led to Sheikh Efendi by the Ascı Dede (Chief of Kitchen). Consequently he would be admitted into the order (discipline) at a Sikke (Mevlevi ritual hat) decoration ritual and then submitted to a “dede” for further training. Nevertheless, he would still be granted an 18 day trial period, during which he was to serve in his own garments. Nev-niyaz (a newly accepted apprentice) would stay in the Mevlevihane throughout the course of his a 1001 day training period. In the meantime he was to run errands in 18 different chores, each checked by a different dede. These included the following: dish-washing to bed-making; table-service to house-cleaning; washing laundry to shopping; and finally to bathroom hygene, all of which were prerequisites of “self -discipline” training. Additionally to this intensive soul-training program, he would also receive fundamental schooling in literacy; adequate Arabic to enable him to read and comprehend the Quran, hadiths (prophets utterances), and fıkıh (knowledge of Islam); as well as adequate Persian and Turkish literature to enable him to read Masnawi. Also in accordance with his personal skills and aptitude, he could learn to play an instrument and/or sing in the rituals. He would often be encouraged to acquire an artistic skill such as hat, tezhip, or miniature.
Having completed the 1001 day training period, "Can" (fellow soul) would be granted the title of “Dede” at a special ceremony. Subsequent to his decoration, he would either be given a “cell” in that Mevlevihane or transferred to another Mevlevihane. In Mevlevihanes, there would be outside followers attending lessons, learning the Sema ceremony, or merely sitting in the audience.
In summary, Mevlevihanes have always served as sort of conservatories or art academies, while giving education on Hz. Mevlana’s teachings along with theology and literature. Namely the Mevlevihanes in Istanbul have played a significant role in training master performers of Turkish Music.This tradion is still going on today.
Even though in the course of history the above defined education has obviously suited male students better, there have also been female dervishes (whirling members of the House), who held the position of postnishin, professor, and caliph, or some who acted on behalf of their underage sons.
As it is revealed by Eflaki in his book, 'The Hisory of Mevlevis', at the request of Ulu Arif Chalabi, Sefer Hatun (Sultan Veled’s daughter) enlightened many students, male and female alike; while Arif-i Hoslika, a Mevlevi caliph, taught in Tokat.
Also, in Afyon, Destina Hatun, one of Divane Mehmet Chalabi’s grandchildren, was an authority in the Mevlevihane appearing in her Mevlevi garments and her sikke (Mevlevi hat).
Later on, also in Afyonkarahisar, Kucuk Meahmed Chalabi’s elder daughter Gunes Han held the positions of sheikh and caliph. Another lady who served as sheikh was Gunes Han-ı Sugra, Kucuk Arif Chalabi’s daughter.
Despite the changing conditions in the nation, female Mevlevis were licensed to wear “arakiyye” and “sikke”. They were even trained for the Sema, but they performed among themselves.
Oil painting by Tayfur Sanliman