The poet of love’s longing

Rooma Mehra pays a tribute to Jalalu’ddin Rumi in his 800th birth anniversary year

When love crosses all boundaries of pain, it becomes poetry – and when a poet gains enlightenment, he becomes a saint and a mystic.

Jalalud’din Rumi was one of the world’s most revered mystical poets and perhaps the greatest Sufi poet of all time.

During his lifetime he produced a formidable range of inspiring and devotional poetry, which expresses the`A0Sufi’s experience of`A0union with the divine.`A0 These timeless classics have enjoyed a renaissance in recent years, as Rumi has become one of our`A0most popular poets.

Rumi was a great scholar of the Koran but his appeal is universal. Even during his lifetime he was noted for his cosmopolitan outlook.`A0 Muslims, Jews, Persians, Christians and Greeks attended his funeral, which lasted 40 days.

However the most important turning point in Rumi’s life was his chance meeting with the wandering dervish Shams al-Din. Rumi, who was a respectable and prestigious scholar, saw in Shams a divine presence.

This meeting was a milestone in Rumi’s life and awakened his latent spirituality. It was at this point that he began to write mystical poetry. Rumi’s poetry encompasses many ideas but behind all his poetry the essential theme was the longing and searching for the union with the divine. Here is an excerpt from one of Rumi’s poems:

Who looks out with my eyes? What is the soul?
I cannot stop asking.
If I could taste one sip of an answer,
I could break out of this prison for drunks.
I didn’t come here of my own accord, and I can’t leave that way.
Whoever brought me here, will have to take me home.

This poetry. I never know what I’m going to say.
I don’t plan it.
When I’m outside the saying of it,
I get very quiet and rarely speak at all.—Jalalu’ddin Rumi/ Masnavi

(Translation by Coleman Barks.)

Masnavi, which is a majestic tribute to the depth of spiritual life, is a work of unbridled ecstatic vision. This 25,000-line poem epitomises the mysticism of Persian Poetry.

Rumi was born in Balkh on September 29, 1207 in Ghurid Empire (now in Afghanistan). His father, Baha’uddin Walad, was a jurist and preacher. The times were violent. The Mongols had destroyed Balkh in 1221, and eventually conquered Baghdad in 1258. According to some sources, Rumi was visiting Baghdad just before it was attacked by the Mongols. Rumi married at the age of 18. His first son, Sultan Walad, was born in Larada. After the death of his father in Konya in Anatolia, Rumi continued there as a teacher and theologian. Although Baha’uddin Walad had been known for his visionary powers and had written about spiritual love. "You are either the light of God or God," Rumi wrote of Shams later in one poem. He neglected his teaching duties and family, and spent a lot of his time with the dervish, whom he would compare to Jesus. The holy man left the town as mysteriously as he had appeared. The disappearance of Shams turned Rumi into a poet.

It is believed that Rumi created his poems in a state of ecstasy, accompanying his verses by a whirling dance. After Shams’ death Rumi had started to circle a pole in his garden in his grief, and speak the poetry, which was written down by scribes. However, listening to music and ecstatic prayer rituals were already features of Sufism for Rumi. The mystical dance was more than a technique for meditation for him. It was the cosmic truth, the manifestation of the secret power of God. Rumi died in Konya on December 17, 1273.Rumi’s poems, composed in the 13th century, found a new audience in the US in the 1990s. In the late 1990s, an updated translation by Coleman Barks became a bestseller in the US. His work was further popularised by a host of western celebrities.