Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Rumi, Hafez and their poetry -- Wonderful!

     At a recent meeting of our Spirit Mind Body Group, which I attend every Thursday morning, we were treated to a wonderful surprise presentation. Our regular member, Sky and his guest Karen Kolberg, took turns to regale us with the Sufi poetry of Rumi (Sky with props) and the Hafez poetry recited and acted out by Karen Kolberg. Sky is a comic with Rumi one-liners. He uses various hard props such as his bucket of "Industrial Strength Philosophy" or "Philosopher in a Drum" to add to the humor and the depth of his presentation. Karen herself suffered a serious intracerebral bleed and lost all of her memorized Hafez poems except one. But she has relearned them all. She carries her "verse purse" with her which contains all the titles of the 360 Hafez poems she knows in it. She asks someone in her audience to draw one out and she recites it with heart and vigor. The combination of these two presenters and the words of these two poets creates a performance at once deep and yet light and airy, like heaven.

     I keep a blog for this group and did this write up for that blog. I thought it warranted placement here on this blog. I would venture to guess that many readers are not familiar with either Rumi or Hafez.

     Read on for information about who these two poets were and also view some photos of Rumi's Mausoleum in Konya, Turkey.
     Rumi or Jalal ad-Din Balkhi or Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi or just Mevlana in Turkey was born in Balkh Province in Afghanistan, in a small town which is located currently in Tajikistan. These areas were part of the Persian Empire when Rumi was born in 1207. His father, Baha ud-Din Walad, was well educated and was an appointed scholar in this part of the Persian Empire as well as a Hanifi theologian, Islamic Jurist and mystic himself. But he either got into some disagreement with the local Shahs or else feared the impending Mongol invasion. So the family journeyed west first performing the Hajj (trip to Mecca) and then eventually settling in the Anatolian city of Konya which at the time was the capital of the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum. He lived most of his life in Konya and there composed the multitude of verses for which he is so well known. He married twice there, siring 2 sons by his first wife and a son and a daughter by his second wife. His father founded a madrassa in Konya and when he died, Rumi took it over. He then also became an Islamic Jurist. Rumi supposedly lived in Damascus for 4 years during his lifetime. In 1244, he met another Sufi mystic, Shams-e Tabrizi. The close friendship of these two men for 4 years changed Rumi into an ascetic mystic. On December 5, 1248, while Rumi and Shams were talking, Shams was called to the back door He went out and was never heard from again. It is thought that perhaps one of Rumi's sons killed Shams. At any rate, Rumi's love for Shams and his grieving after his disappearance found expression in his outpouring of lyric poems, Divan-e Shams-e Tabrizi. Rumi died in 1273 AD and was buried in Konya, alongside his father's tomb, where that burial place is currently a shrine and goal of pilgrimages. The 13th century Mawlana Mausoleum with its mosque, dance hall, dervish living quarters, school and tombs of other leaders of the Mevlevi Order still is the most famous draw to the city of Konya. His original literary works were read widely in the Persian world of the time and were translated into Urdu, Punjabi and other Pakistani languages such as Pashto and Sindhi.

     Rumi's epitaph reads: When we are dead, seek not our tomb in the earth, but find it in the hearts of men.

     Themes of Rumi's thoughts and writing includes the concept of tawhid -- a union with the beloved or primal root or source from which the mystic has been cut off -- and his strong desire to restore this connection. Rumi believed in the use of music, poetry and dance as a path leading to God. These ideas led to the practice of whirling dervishes which developed into a ritual form still practiced today. His teachings founded the Mevlevi order which his son Sultan Walad promulgated. Rumi encouraged a practice called Sama, which included listening to music and turning or doing the sacred dance. Sama is a form of deep meditation done while spinning steadily in a circle, representing the mystical spiritual ascent through mind and love to the Perfect One. Druing this journey the turner circles to the truth, grows through love, abandons the ego and finds the truth. This mystic then returns to love and to be of service to the whole of creation without regard to beliefs, races, classes, or nations.

     Sky uses the Rumi translations of Coleman Barks (1937-) an American poet who is welll known for these translations and is responsible for their light airy characteristics.

The road driving to Konya, Turkey

Some views of the Mevlani Mausoleum (Rumi's Museum and Tomb). Also called the Green Mosque

The chandalier inside the Mevlani Museum

Some scenes from inside the Mevlani Museum

Porcelain dervish figures

A painting of the dervishes
Inside Rumi's Tomb. The round structure represents a headstone and is also the hat that the Sufi's wear.

The Tomb of Rumi, his father, and other relatives, from the outside.

      Hafez was a Sufi student and teacher and writer from Shiraz, in what is now Iran. Much less is known about his life than about Rumi. He was born about 1315 and is reported to have died in about 1390. His mausoleum is located in the Musalla Gardens of Shiraz. Many stories are told about Hafez. He is said to have learned the Q'uran, the poetry of Rumi, and other mystic Persian poets by heart. At one point in his young life, he was working in a bakery and saw a beautiful woman to which much of his poetry is dedicated. However, he knew he would never be able to be with this woman, so he directed his desire and longingly beautiful poetry to a divine perfection instead of this woman. At one point he decided he would achieve a mystical union with this perfection and drew a circle on the gournd, and supposedly sat for 40 days and nights in this circle until he did achieve this union with the ultimate perfection. He called this union "Cosmic Consciousness."

     Hafez and his poetry were acclaimed even during his lifetime. Many poets then and since have imitated his work. He has even influenced Western writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Goethe. His poetry had both simultaneous lyrical (love poetry), literal, and mystical components and there is still controversy about what the writing's true intent was. W.M. Thackston has said of this that Hafiz "sang a rare blend of human and mystic love so balanced...that it is impossible to separate one from the other." Since there was difficulty interpreting his poetry even in the 14th century, one can imagine that not all translations are successful.

     Daniel Ladinsky is a translator of Hafez poetry. He is a poet who has grown up in the American Midwest. He has studied Sufism and has written several books with interpretations of Hafez poetry. Karen Koberg who recited by memory several of Ladinsky's interpretations of Hafez writings. There has been criticism of Ladinsky's work saying that it is not true to Hafez original work. But hearing our guest recite these poems by memory shows the true beauty at least of these translated words.

     Rumi and his folowers in the Mevlani Order in Konya developed the whirling dervish practice. The dervish spins on the left foot only using the right foot to propel himself, placing it once on the floor during each complete revolution. The usual speed of the turning is at 33 RPM, the same as the old fashioned records. When the dervishes enter the performance hall, they slowly procede to the music. They are clothed in dark outer robes. They wear a tall round thick hat on their head which is supposed to represent a tombstone. As they proceed with the Sama ceremony they slowly remove their outer robe, symbolizing arising from the dead, bow to each other in a prescribed way and then each slowly begins his turning The dervish starts with his hands crossed over his heart and as his meditation deepens he extends both hands outward and upward from the body. The right hand has the palm facing upward which symbolizes receiving the truth from the universe and the left palm faces downward to symbolize returning the truth to the world of humanity. The dervishes usually hold their head slanted to the side. Medically it is thought that this abates the vertigo that would result from this turning by keeping the semicircular labyrinthine canals of the inner ear horizontal and lessening the motion within them. The actual true Sama goes on repetitively for sometimes hours. This long ceremony is not very interesting to observe for so long. So those that are being produced for tourists are usually shortened to 30 to 40 minutes. We attended one that is produced in the ancient Caravanserai Suruhani located in Cappadoccia. (Caravanserai were overnight fortress/hostelries placed about 20 miles apart, the days ride on camels, that served camel caravans on the Silk Road; most were established in the 11th to 13th century, during Rumi's lifetime.)

Here is a short youtube film clip of the whirling


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