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‘Rumi’nation: A birthday tribute to the medieval mystic  

Monday June 09, 2014


"Rumi’s poems are like ‘food and drink nourishment for soul’. His discourse oscillates between practical and mysterious. He looks at a rose and learns a lasting lesson. A short-lived luminous candle becomes a multi-layered metaphor for him, of melting body and migrating soul.”


Tulsidas Mishra


In last few years, Rumi - the thirteenth century theologian - has witnessed a remarkable revival. For once, the new generation does not discard something medieval outright, calling it regressive. On the contrary, Rumi’s writings are read, researched, discussed and debated with great enthusiasm. Be it corporate cubicle, office canteen, college campus or weekend hangout, the medieval mystic is cited and quoted everywhere. Some read him following the fashion and some other pursue him with passion.

But any spiritual indulgence in a gross material age is welcome. Because oscillating between extremes like unemployment and overwork, external noise and internal desolation, modern man leads a miserable life.

And in such a depressing scenario, Rumi’s lines work magic. They inspire the soul, rejuvenate the spirit and show simple and practical ways to fight the sweeping fatigue.


Rumi was born Jalaluddin Balkhi, on September 30,1207, in Balkh, Afghanistan. ‘Rumi’ means ‘from Roman Anatolia’. He got his name Rumi in Konya, Turkey. His family emigrated there sometime between 1215 and 1220. Rumi’s father Bahauddin Walad was a theologian and jurist. At his death, Rumi took over the position of sheikh in the dervish learning community in Konya.

Rumi’s poems lead the reader to a ‘blank state of knowing nothing’. There is no harm, if at times ambition is kept on hold, while man lives life ‘free of purpose, free of time and space, in a kind of pure sailing.’ Circumventing all cyclic patterns, man should come out once in a while and indulge in the ‘simplicity of just taking in sunlight, no pretext, no excuse, empty in the present moment’ advises Rumi.

What is there in this philosopher, so far off in time, that fascinates today’s tech-savvy youth so much? Surfing several intervening centuries, undoing numerous other equally famous thinkers on the way, why the gen-next wants to re-explore his text. To retrieve what?

According to some, Rumi’s poems are like ‘food and drink nourishment for soul’. His discourse oscillates between practical and mysterious. He looks at a rose and learns a lasting lesson. ‘The patience of a rose, close to the thorn keeps it fragrant’ he writes. A short-lived luminous candle becomes a multi-layered metaphor for him. Of melting body and migrating soul. ‘A candle is made to become entirely flame. In that annihilating moment, it has no shadow’ he reflects.

His lines keep shifting focus from everyday to esoteric. ‘An invisible bird flies over, but casts a quick shadow’ muses Rumi, trying to comprehend the mystery in something mundane.

‘Your actions mean nothing, the sex and war that you do. You are holding part of your pants and prancing around’. Rumi wrote these futuristic lines eight centuries back. Can there be a better description of today’s war-torn Islamic countries? They are going nowhere because of external interference, internal feud and sectarian violence.

But Rumi does not brood over the irony of life always. Sitting in the Tavern, he tries to imagine the immensity of ocean in a wine cup. ‘Look at this cup that can hold the ocean’ he muses. But when the crowd and congestion of the wine house stifle him, he comes out saying--‘Why do you stay in prison, when the door is so wide open? Then he looks up and indulges in some irreverent wit. ‘Last night the moon came dropping its clothes in the street’ he quips.  On a different occasion, the moon causes some sort of abstract craving in him. ‘Thirst drove me down to the water, where I drank the moon’s reflection’ writes Rumi. All too often, Rumi’s simple statements have a symbolic tone. His mundane  images cast a metaphysical shadow. Long and hard.

‘I am so tired of what I have been doing’. Does not this line sound like the melancholic cry of a modern man, stuck in a sorry Sisyphean cycle,   pathetically predictable? ‘You were young once and content. Now you think about money all the time’ adds Rumi to rub some more salt and then suggests to break free and enjoy the ‘freedom of madness’.

Rumi reposes great faith on divine grace. ‘For one moment, quit being sad. Hear, blessings dropping their blossoms around you’ he exhorts. But pragmatic that he is, he does not deny the inherent pain of day to day struggle.   ‘These pains that you feel are messengers. Listen to them. Turn them to sweetness. The night is almost over’ he sums up.

‘Patience polishes and purifies’ writes Rumi highlighting the virtue of patience. ‘Feeling lonely and ignoble indicates that you have not been patient’ he rues.  ‘Brother, stand the pain. The sky will bow to your beauty’ he elaborates. ‘Let us wait and trust the waiting’ he concludes giving hope.

But then he is not against any display of grief or grievances. He calls God a ‘nursing mother’ and the Universe a ‘reasonable father’. ‘Cry out! Don’t be stolid and silent with your pain. Lament!’ he tells all. ‘The child cries, and then the mother’s milk flows’ he points out. In Nature’s complicacy he sees the latent compassion. ‘Whatever comes, comes from a need, a sore distress, a hurting want.’ he concludes.

‘A Sufi is the child of this moment’ says Rumi and advocates austerity along the way. ‘The foundation and walls of the spiritual life are made of self-denials and disciplines’ he says favouring a frugal living. ‘There is a hidden sweetness in the stomach’s emptiness.’ he adds.

‘Speech is silver, silence is golden’ said William Shakespeare. And like his forerunner Rumi remarks-- ‘Silence is an ocean. Speech is a river’. ‘The soul lives there in the silent breath’ he elaborates.

‘A wall standing alone is useless’ cautions Rumi. He puts great emphasis on bonding and companionship. ‘When ink joins with the pen, then the blank paper can say something’ he explains.

In the late fall of 1244 Rumi met Shams of Tabriz, a wandering dervish. And both became inseparable like ink and pen.  It is believed that, with the arrival of Shams of Tabriz began Rumi’s transformation into a mystical artist. But their friendship was a short lived one, which ended, when Shams disappeared, on the night of December 5, 1248.

Separation from Shams had a great impact on Rumi. But thankfully the calamity also led to great creativity. Rumi called the huge collection of his ghazals(odes) and ‘rubaiyat’(quatrains),Divani Shamsi Tabriz(The works of Shams of Tabriz).

‘Charaiveti, Charaiveti’ (keep walking) exhorted the Hindu sages, calling life  on this planet, a long journey.  ‘We are all returning’ echoes the Quran. ‘Notice how everyone has just arrived here from a journey’ repeats Rumi.  ‘Your real ‘country’ is where you’re heading, not where you are’ he adds, clearing the confusion.  But then he feels lost along the way. ‘The ocean takes care of each wave’ sings the minstrel on the move, underlining his faith on God’s grace.

According to Rumi, someone who is curled up and constricted does not qualify for the ‘healing elixir’. ‘Stay out in the open like a date palm, lifting its arms’ he advises. Because then only one can take ‘sips of rainwater’.

When it comes to modes and methods of worship, like other saintly souls, Rumi too prefers essential devotion to superfluous rituals. If one is humble inside, even his ‘sweet blasphemy’ will have the impact of ‘true devotion’.  ‘Inside Kaaba, it doesn’t matter which direction you point your prayer rug!’ he elaborates.

Your action will be your best friend’ says Rumi. But cautions all against bad ‘karma’. ‘No matter how fast you run, your shadow more than keeps up. Sometimes, it is in front!’ he warns.

‘Move into the sun. You’re wrapped in fantasy and inner mumbling.’ says Rumi, advising all to be active and pragmatic. For him many humble house hold chores are actually simple ways to gain wisdom. ‘There is great wisdom in washing the bedclothes. Wash them.’ he advises. ‘No longer subject to fortune, you could be ‘luck’ itself.’ he observes, expecting all to sculpt their own destiny.

Poetry and music mean a whole lot to him. ‘We rarely hear the inward music, but we’re all dancing to it nevertheless.’ he claims. ‘A true seeker must be completely empty like a lute to make the sweet music’ relates Rumi.

According to many Rumi’s poetry is ‘a salt breeze from the ocean of ‘ilm’ (divine luminous wisdom), travelling inland.’ Rumi is a bridge between religions and cultures. A dissolver of boundaries. He is the ocean that acknowledges oneness over the multiplicity of waves. Rumi’s poems are like firecrackers on a funeral pyre. They point us away from misery.  He is a letter to everyone. You open it. It says--‘Live’.

‘Every morning we glow and in the evening we glow again’ reflects Rumi. Evening descended on this messianic mystic on December 17, 1273. ‘A great mutual embrace’ must have happened then, between him and God, as he had visualized.

‘A rider goes by, but his dust of passing hangs in the air’. Who knows, a great humanist that he was, Rumi’s soul must be somewhere around, wrapped in ‘pure absence’. ‘A sweet breathing emptiness’.  ‘Quiet as moonlight’. Showering blessings like a rain cloud. Because he believed in ‘love with no object’. For Rumi, the human being in spite of all his follies is like a ‘wished for song’.  ‘Never think that you are worthless. God has paid an enormous amount for you’ he remarked, evaluating the worth.

Anywhere you put your foot, feel me in the firmness under you’ Rumi said once, expressing his humble wish.

(Author is an alumnus of FTII, Pune and is active in Film and Television sector for last twenty years. He has shouldered varied relevant responsibilities in Mumbai and Hyderabad. Presently he is based in Bhubaneswar)


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