In Western Asia and the Middle East they are known as Mevlevi. They are followers of Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi, a renowned 13th-century Sufi poet, scholar and mystic, revered even in the West.
By some accounts, he is now the most popular poet in the United States. His works are said to have outsold Shakespeare in English-speaking countries for at least two decades.
This year is the eighth centennial of his birth in Balkh, in present-day Afghanistan. UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, has declared 2007 the International Year of Rumi.
His followers are celebrating it with programs and ceremonies worldwide. Some are staging readings of his works or screenings of the film "Rumi — Turning Ecstatic: A Voice of Peace from Within Islam," which was the official selection of the Santa Cruz Film Festival last year.
Others are sponsoring performances by whirling dervishes. In April, the Whirling Dervishes of Rumi will give seven performances of their sacred ritual, sema, in the United States.
Global Cultural Connections, a nonprofit organization based in Irvine, whose members are for the most part of Turkish descent, has arranged to bring the Mevlevi here. Their performances are among many events sponsored by Global Cultural Connections with the hope of fostering understanding, love and respect among people, whatever their religion or culture.
Two years ago, when Global Cultural Connections first brought the Whirling Dervishes of Rumi here, a single performance at the 1,500-seat Royce Hall at UCLA sold out.
This year, the organization has scheduled two performances in Southern California, one at USC's Bovard Auditorium on April 9 and the other at the Irvine Barclay Theatre on April 10.