I fail to remember the first ever time I read Rumi- it may have been in a bookstore I frequented during a phase of my life that metamorphosed me, so I realize in hind sight. Rumi knows what he is talking about when he says- “What you seek is seeking you”. However, the irony lay in the fact that at that time, I had almost no clue what I was seeking with such intense passion and I didn’t quite realize where I was being led. But I am glad, it led me to him and allowed me to enter a whirling Milky Way of constellations of pure ruhaniyat or soulfulness. And years later, I am still on that astronomical voyage…
A Google search will yield countless sites with gigabytes of data on Rumi- the 13th century mystic and Sufi poet. But he is timeless and so I prefer to refer to him in the present tense, cause he stays, when your heart surrenders to the heady aroma of his words.
‘Listen to presences inside poems,
Let them take you where they will.’
Mevlana or Maulana- ‘lord/master’ Rumi is a 700 year old Afghan Islamic- Sufi mystic, who saw life and love for what they are.
‘The minute I heard my first love story
I started looking for you, not knowing
how blind that was.
Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere.
They’re in each other all along.’
You are filled with marvel at the richness of his soul-speak which flows like the lilting notes from a flute echoing in an empty desert or the cool waters from an overflowing pitcher on a hot dry day.
‘I want to be where
Your bare foot walks,
because maybe before you step,
you’ll look at the ground.
I want that blessing.’
Born Jalaluddin Balkhi on 30th September 1207, he came to be called ‘Rumi’, or one from Roman Anatolia, when his family had to flee to Konya, Turkey, saving themselves from the Mongol invasions.
The deep bond or ‘sohbet’ with his teacher and soul-friend Shams Tabriz kindled the ‘soul fury’ which was already stirring in him from a very early age. But Shams Tabriz was murdered, leaving a grieving Rumi, who ultimately arrived at the consoling truth that
‘When you search for the home
of the soul, you become the soul.
Wanting a taste of bread,
You become the oven.
Understand this much:whatever
you love and look for, you are.’
This complete assimilation of the self is called ‘fanaa’ in Sufism, where the Lover and the Beloved merges into one existence. In fact, Rumi’s death anniversary on 17th December is celebrated as his ‘urs’ or wedding night with the Divine, when his soul united with his Beloved. To see, feel and love God as a beloved, requires fathomless passion and an overflowing heart that will not be hindered by the world and its subversive pettiness.
‘When I am with you, we stay up all night,
When you’re not here, I can’t go to sleep.
Praise God for these two insomnias!
And the differences between them.’
I have loved Rumi’s words for aeons now. I do not have the temerity to say I understand all of him and I know enough about him. But he enters my thoughts whenever the river within risks the threat of running dry. When barren emptiness is on the horizon, my Rumi makes his way through a casual quote, or through the chance discovery of a misplaced book filled with underlined couplets… My soul rests gratefully…
‘Do not grieve for what doesn’t come,
Some things that don’t happen
keep disasters from happening.’
And my heart delights in a humble discovery when I find echoes of my Rumi in Blake and Tagore-
‘This moment this love comes to rest in me,
many beings in one being.
In one wheat grain a thousand sheaf stacks.
Inside the needle’s eye a turning night of stars.’
While Blake writes in about 1803-
‘To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.’
or when Tagore writes in 1901, in ‘Naivedya’ or ‘offerings’,
‘The vitality that flows in waves night and day through every vein of my body, flows out to conquer the universe; pulsates through the world in amazing rhythm and cadence;…That endless vitality, absorbed into my being, exalts me in every limb.
In my veins dances today that vast rhythm of aeons.’
I cannot help but be reminded of Rumi when he says,
‘In your light I learn how to love.
In your beauty, how to make poems.
You dance inside my chest,
where no one sees you,
but sometimes I do,
and that sight becomes this art.’
I am filled with the sense of the Oneness of the truth of all things… The entire universe seems to convey only one message, that we are all the same- we are stars, stardust, flowers, animal, bird, fish, water, air, grass and human. But we have estranged ourselves more than we realize and now it seems we are adrift on an abandoned ship on a sea of despair.
That is why Rumi matters. Sufi philosophy matters. Rumi lives to show us that we are the Divine and the human, the lover and the love. We are ‘SAT’ (truth), ‘CHITT’ (consciousness) and ‘Anand’ (joy), epitomized in the rhythmic swirling of the Sufi dervishes. And as I continue this journey with and in his words, he remains (in words borrowed from Kafka) both ‘the quiet and the confusion of my heart’.
I remain indebted to the translations by Coleman Barks and Daniel Ladinsky of Rumi’s poems.
The translation of Tagore’s work was by Amalendu Bose.
The Sufi painting is sourced from pepperfry. The rest of the pictures have been taken by me.