"In the men of Hind the usages of Hind are praiseworthy. In the men of Sindh those of Sindh...
Ways of worship are not to be ranked as better or worse... It is all Praise, it is all right."
Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi,
WERE these the paths that Rumi once trod? Was this the earth on which he is said to have whirled round in ecstasy? Had he stared wistfully at this very moon mourning the loss of his beloved, Shams of Tabriz? The thoughts whirled as I entered Konya.
I was in Mevlana Town, the honorary name for this Turkish city in Central Anatolia; a name by which all Turks know this place, for "Mevlana" has for centuries drawn people from all corners of the globe.
Jalaluddin was born in Balkh province of today's Afghanistan in 1207 AD but made this town his home. Konya was then the capital of the Rum Seljuk Empire. Jalaluddin of Rum or Rumi, as he came to be known, became a great scholar and teacher of philosophy.
When he was 37, he encountered the wandering mystic, Shams of Tabriz. In Shams, Rumi discovered the inner Friend, the soul, God himself. Such was Rumi's attachment to Shams that it incurred the wrath of his other disciples and the latter had to flee to Damascus twice to save his life.
Each time Rumi made him return till one day Shams disappeared. The verses inspired by Rumi's love and longing for Shams are among the most magnificent works in Persian — the Diwan-I-Shams-I-Tabriz, also known as Divan-I-Kebir, with 44,000 verses.
In time, Rumi found a mirror of his Beloved in his disciple, Husam-e-din ibn Akhi Turk. This relationship inspired Rumi's other seminal work The Masnavi — a collection of fables, anecdotes, Quranic revelations, poetry and even tales from the Panchatantra.
Rumi became a mystic, a dervish or mendicant. He preached that love was the only true path. He went on to establish the Mevlevi order of the Whirling Dervishes who realise God through dance and music. He came to be known as Mevlana or teacher, which is how he is remembered in Turkey. The place where he lived, preached, danced and wrote came to be known as "Mevlana city".
Rumi was laid to rest beside his father in a rose garden, and a splendid shrine, the Yeºil Türbe or "Green Tomb" was constructed. The mausoleum is topped by a conical dome of turquoise tiles, which glitters and is visible from miles away. The entrance is through a beautiful courtyard in which stands an ornate fountain used for ablutions.
After removing my shoes I entered a vestibule, earlier reserved for the teachers of the Quran. Rumi's sarcophagus is the largest and lies directly under the blue dome. The actual tomb is underneath. At the head of the sarcophagus stands a headdress signifying his authority over the other dervishes who lie buried here. His son was also buried near him and later some famous dervishes.
The mausoleum is furnished in richly emblazoned silks and satins, thick hand-woven woollen carpets adorn the grounds, and verses from the Quran and Rumi's works are inscribed in beautiful Arabic calligraphy. Thick velvet shrouds with verses from the Quran embroidered in heavy zari cover the sarcophaguses. Heavy crystal chandeliers, the central one gifted by Sultan Selim I, bathe the chambers in a warm glow.
Suleiman the Magnificient, who held the Mevlevi Order in high esteem, gifted the semahane or dance hall, which stands beside the mausoleum. It has now been converted into Mevlana museum, which displays some of his personal relics like his Quran, his robes, verses from his various works, prayer beads, some musical instruments.
There are also antique prayer carpets, as well as relics of the Prophet Mohamed. On the right of the mausoleum stands a small Dervish museum, with mannequins dressed as dervishes.
Iranians, who account for most of the foreign pilgrims, too claim Rumi as their own, because of his Persian antecedents. It is said that men of different religions followed Rumi's bier after his death on December 16,1273 — known as Shabe-aruz or Night of the Union (with the Divine).
The week of Shaberuz is celebrated each year when a Mevlana festival is held, bringing thousands of Sufis from around the world. Rumi wrote some 770 years ago, but his message that "Love's nationality is separate from all other religions" and so God "regard(s) not the outside and the words, I regard the inside and the state of the heart" remains relevant even today, perhaps the very balm that an anguished Middle East now needs the most.
Konya is a far cry from the glitter and glamour of Istanbul or Ankara. Though there are modern buildings and broad clean roads, the city has a medieval flavour. Narrow winding streets branch away from the main road; kebabs are roasted on open fires on sidewalks flanked by shops selling all kinds of souvenirs and religious ware. Because of Mevlana, Konya is essentially a pilgrim city.
City's other sights
The other sights the city offers are mostly mosques or seminaries turned museums. The Allaettin Mosque, built in 1221 for Sultan Alaeddin Kaykubad I, is splendid with its maze of columns, a finely painted 12th century old mihrab (prayer niche) and an exquisitely carved wooden minbar (pulpit for sermons).
The Karatay Musuem, which was actually a Seljuk seminary, has an interesting marble entrance and a wonderful collection of ceramic tiles.
The Sahib I Ata Mosque is a piece of fine Seljuk architecture and there are many other elegantly designed mosques and shrines, including one which is said to be that of Rumi's beloved Shams.
There is no Turkish city without a hammam (bath) and the historic Court Hammam, situated halfway between Mevlana Museum and Alaettin Mosque offers an invigorating massage and wash.
Konya is also the best place in Turkey to buy rugs and carpets in, as most of those sold in the bazaars and showrooms of the bigger cities are produced here. Shops here are mostly owned by families producing these carpets and it is common to see relatives sitting weaving in the shops. It is possible to take lessons in carpet weaving here.
The dervish is the city's unofficial mascot and figurines are sold in the numerous shops and kiosks lining the streets. Every second hotel or restaurant is named Dervis or Mevlana. Konya after all is Mevlana city and this is reflected in its people.
Take Nasser for instance. Simply because I buy a few rugs from him, he assumes that it is his duty to drop me to the bus station, a good 10 km away from the city on a freezing night.
Ask a passerby for directions and you find yourself invited for tea or lunch or dinner, depending on the time of day. Order a Turkish coffee in one of the cafes tucked away in those bylanes and you will be served a sandwich too, free of cost.
Later I acquainted myself with the other famous Rumi legacy — the dance or sema of the Whirling Dervishes. The dervishes lived simple lives dedicated to the love of God and humanity. They sometimes, though not always, lived in cloisters in monasteries known as tekkes, but were not celibates. There are a number of Dervish orders in the world today, of which the Mevlevi order is but one.
The whirling dervish
The Mevlevi dervishes reach out to the Divine through ritual dancing called Sema, or whirling. It is based on the philosophy that everything in life revolves. The dance symbolises a spiritual journey towards the highest truth.
The sema that day was a special one. Two little dervishes, aged 10, had recently been initiated into the order and were performing their first sema ceremony.
The sheikh stood at the head. Twenty-five dervishes performed the sema. They advanced separately, removing their black cloaks, which symbolised earthly bondage. The white robes and headdress worn by them symbolised the shroud and tombstone of the human ego.
They held their arms cross-wise over their chests to symbolise their unity with God. Thus, the dervishes were born to the spiritual truth.
The ceremony began with a eulogy to the Prophets, praise to God who had created them all. Then came the drumbeat, a call to the dervishes to be conscious of themselves, followed by the call of the ney or reed flute, which symbolised the first breath of life. The dervishes then kissed the sheikh's hand, seeking permission to enter the sema.
First, the dancers or semazens bowed to each other honouring the spirit within. Slowly, as they started whirling their arms unfolded, the right hand opened to the skies to receive God's beneficence and the left hand turned towards the earth to convey the blessing received. Their gaze rested on the left hand.
They whirled from right to left in four sessions, or selams. White apparitions, they glided by effortlessly, transporting us into another world. During the selam the sheikh entered the circling dervishes, assuming the place of the sun in the centre of the circling planets.
The Sema ended with a reading from the Quran and prayers for the repose of the souls of the Prophets and the faithful. I understood then that this was probably Rumi's greatest legacy — the reason why UNESCO is celebrating 2007, which marks eight centuries since his birth in 1207, as the Year of Rumi.