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Visiting the Mevlana

india Updated: Oct 31, 2006 20:09 IST
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Mevlana. I didn’t know what the word meant, until I read a book on Sufi poetry, and discovered that it was the Turkish name for Jelaluddin Rumi, perhaps the greatest Sufi mystic and poet.

Rumi started as an Islamic teacher in 1230. In 1244 a meeting with a wandering dervish, Semsuddin Tabrizi, changed the course of Rumi’s life. He began to manifest an ecstatic love of God and expressed his message of love through beautiful poetry, and dancing. The rest of his life was devoted to writing the Mathnawi, a mystical epic; the Fihi-ma-fihi, a book of table-talk; the Divan-I-Shams, a collection of mystical verse; and the Mektubat, a book of letters. He also established a Sufi brotherhood, called the Mevlevis with its distinctive whirling dance.

When he died in Konya (in Turkey) in 1273 AD, a splendid shrine was erected for his remains, which is now a national museum and a place of fervent pilgrimmage. At the entrance is Rumi’s meditation room. It is small, brightly-lit and spartan, with a statue of Rumi. A chain slung across the doorway prevents the crowd from entering, but such is the draw of the place that they are jostling to get a snap of the master’s statue. Some aim their cameras above my head and others don’t wish to move from the door.

A passageway leads to the main shrine. The atmosphere inside is of reverence. Haunting Sufi music plays in the background, while pilgrims silently file past the tombs of the various Sufi saints that are laid out in neat rows. In the middle, bathed in the glow of the sulphur spotlights, are the tombs of Rumi himself, and that of his father, Baha-al-Din Valed. It is interesting that Valed’s sarcophagus stands upright, for legends say that when Rumi was buried, Valed’s tomb “rose and bowed in reverence”.

Pilgrims from all over throng the railing. Lines from the Mathnawi come back to me: “Come! Come whoever you are/Doesn't matter if you are an unbeliever/Doesn't matter if you have fallen a thousand times. Come!”

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