Saturday, February 14, 2009

Secular spirit of Rumi


There are many lessons to be learnt from the teachings of Jalaludin Rumi’s (1207-73) Mathnavi. Also, the impact of his teachings, if any, on the people. I refer specifically to his utterances on the need for respect for religions, besides the one a person is born into. I was reading a translation of the Mathnavi for the fourth time. In my first reading I had underlined the following lines:

"Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu, Buddhist, Sufi or Zen. Not any religion or cultural system. I am not from the East or West, not out of the ocean or up from the ground, if not natural or ethereal, not composed of elements at all. I do not exist, am not an entity in this world or the next. I did not descend from Aden and Eve or any origin story. My place is placeless, a trace of the traceless, neither body or soul, I belong to the beloved, have seen the two worlds as one, and that one calls to know, first, last, outer, inner, only that breath breathing human.’’

According to his translator, Professor Coleman Barks, when Rumi died in Konya (Turkey) in December, 1273, representatives of every major religion came to his funeral. In the midst of the crusades and violent sectarian conflict, he said: "I go to the Muslim mosque and the Jewish synagogue and the Christian church and see one altar". It is not surprising that Rumi won the respect of people of all religions. To this day the Christian church in Shiraz (Iran) has a tablet with the following lines of Rumi: "Where Jesus lives, the great hearted gather. We are a door that’s never locked. If you are suffering any kind of pain, stay near the door. Open it.’’

What is love?

To this day the Christian church in Shiraz (Iran) has a tablet with lines written by Rumi

A young lady, Shalini Mukherjee, of First City monthly magazine, put me up through a detailed questionnaire on my past and my views on different topics. When I wanted to terminate the interview, she pleaded, ‘one last question’: "What are your views on love?" I pondered over the matter for a while. She evidently did not mean love for God, parents, country etc. but earthy love between men and women in approximately the same age group. Then I blurted out: "Lust I understand, love I do not. Lust is a natural instinct to ensure reproduction of our species. It knows no racial, religious or class barriers. Love is the gloss human beings put on it to give it respectability. To start with lust and love co-exist. As lust begins to abate, love begins to lose its shine. Both become routine affairs. Both seek new pastures beyond limits imposed by man-made laws of monogamy and marital fidelity, and so on.’’

Patels and Valentine

In spite of what you have been old by everyone, the truth is that Valentine’s Day originated hundreds of years ago in India, and to top it all, in Gujarat. Gujarati men, especially the Patels, continually mistreated and disrespected their wives (Patelnis). One fine day, it happened to be the 14th of February, one brave Patelni, having had enough ‘torture’ from her husband, finally chose to rebel by beating him up with a velan (rolling pin). Yes, the same velan which she used daily to make chapattis for him. Only this time, instead of the dough, it was the husband who was flattened.

In Mathnavi Rumi stressed the need to respect all religions

This was a momentous occasion for all Gujarati women, and a revolt soon spread like wild fire, with thousands of housewives beating up their husbands with the velan. There was an outburst of moaning ‘chapatti-ed’ husbands all over. The Patel men folk quickly learnt their lesson and started to behave respectfully with their Patelnis.

Thereafter, on 14th February, every year, the women folk of Gujarat would ceremoniously beat up their husbands and commemorate that eventful day. The wives having the satisfaction of beating up their husbands with the velan, and the men having the supreme joy of submitting to the will of the women they loved.

Soon the Gujju men realised that in order to avoid this ordeal, they needed to present gifts to their wives. They brought flowers and sweetmeats. Hence, the tradition began. As Gujarat fell under the influence of western culture, that day was called ‘Velan Time’ Day. The ritual soon spread to Britain and many other western countries, specifically the catch words ‘Velan Time’. Of course, in their foreign tongues, it was first anglicised to ‘Velantime,’ and then to ‘Valentine’. And, thereafter, 14th of February came to be known as Valentine’s Day.

— (Contributed by Vipin Buckshey, New Delhi)