At the Mawlana Festival

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Konya during the Mawlana Festival

Konya is a city of love and a city of pilgrimage in the heart of the Anatolia region in Turkey.

Its ancient heritage shines in the light of Jalal al-din Balkhi Rumi, a man who was a great teacher and scholar of Islam in 13th century. He was known as a spiritual figure in his time and since then has been honoured as a saint. Rumi, known as Mawlana (master), is a messenger of love, having moved millions of souls over centuries with his poems and mysticism. Rumi, whose coffin was carried not only by Muslims, but also by Christians and Jews, died in a cold and snowy winter in Konya on 17th December 1273.

His poems and words of wisdom have touched the hearts of many individuals. His Masnavi and Great Divan (the collection of poems) have been bestsellers in the US. Rumi was declared as a philosopher and the most read poet in the world by UNESCO and his works are recognized as masterpieces. UNESCO declared 2007 as the “International Rumi Year” and held the 800th anniversary of his birth in its Paris headquarters in collaboration with Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan.

Today, as you walk around Konya, the presence of Rumi is everywhere.

As I walk in the old town around the Mawlana Museum, I see a traditional city with strong religious elements. The majority of women wear moderate dress with colourful headscarves and a few are covered in black burkas, while most men are bearded or have a moustache. There are plenty of mosques in every neighbourhood from the Seljuk era, the Ottoman period, and more modern ones. As the Azan (call to prayer) is heard from the minarets of the mosques, people rush to perform their prayers. In the bazar, the salesmen leave their shops, cafes and stalls to join the masses in the mosques along with the women who stand in their own sections behind men.

the shrine of Rumi

I found the people of Konya very friendly and welcoming. They embraced tourists and loved to help them. On one occasion, I came out of a mosque and was busy taking pictures when someone communicated with me in spontaneous sign language inviting me into his shop for a cup of tea.

I was in Konya during the Mawlana Festival in commemoration of the death of Rumi. The night that he passed away, and departed to the divine world to reunite with his Beloved, according to Rumi’s philosophy, is called Seb-i Arus (the wedding night). The 10 days of celebration attract millions of people from all over the world. As I approached closer to the shrine of Rumi ornamented with a greenish blue tiled dome built in the form of a cylindrical cask, I became more curious to know who Rumi was.

The Rumi Boulevard from Alladin-Hill to the shrine of Mullana is a vibrant place to sense the dominant influence of Rumi. Cafes, restaurants and hotels all carry his name and souvenir shops sell a variety of symbolic medals, necklaces and items labelled with Rumi’s name,  statues of whirling dervishes and other Sufi tools.

Rumi Boulevard

Rumi expressed his divine journey in his literary writings and poems using theological terminology in a unique and artistic manner. However, it was believed that only those who really reach into his inner secrets could step into his Tarighah (path) in order to discover Haghighah (truth).

As Rumi says:

Every one became my friend from his own opinion,

None sought out my secrets from within me.

My secret is not far from my plaint, 

But ear and eye lack the light (where it should be apprehended).

I witnessed so much diversity in the practices derived from the teachings of Rumi in my days in Konya. The city was overwhelmed with the celebrations in his name in hotels, halls, Pir Khanehs (Sufi houses) and small clubs with Zikr (repeating/chanting God’s name), poetry, singing, dancing and playing traditional musical instruments such as Nei, Keman, Drum and Daff. There were gatherings and concerts which looked more like fun and entertainment with men and women turning around and dancing. However, I found other more devout Sema ceremonies which were deeper in their practice and traditional prayers of devotion offered to experience God.

Sema ritual ceremony to reach unity with God

Konya is a great home of mysticism where seeds of love have grown deep with the light of Rumi, but it is not all without misunderstanding and distortion in his teachings. The Sema was invented by Rumi following an incident in Konya’s Bazar where he heard the hammering on gold metal by a gold maker. It sounded to him like a Zikr repeating Allah’s name and moved him into a continuous spinning position while one arm was raised into the sky and the other was down to the ground. He spun and spun in a symbolic ritual to reach unity with God.

The four principles of Sufism in Islam are to gain spiritual perfection and what Rumi also preached are: Shariah (Islamic Law), Tarigah (mystical path), Hagigah (truth and divinity) and Marifah (wisdom).

Rumi Says:

I am the servant of Quran, if I have spirit

I am the soil at the gate of the chosen Mohammad

Whoever says anything contradictory to my sayings

I despise him and his words

 

Sema ritual ceremony attracts crowds and is integral to the festival

The masses gathered around the 16th century Selimiye Mosque opposite the shrine of Mawlana. I could see local people, ordinary tourists, men and women, Turkish and foreign, religious and non-religious, Muslims and non-Muslims along with Sufi pilgrims appeared there on their way to pay respect to a unique and extraordinary spiritual man. All those people with whatever belief descended upon the master of all Sufis to connect with him in order to lift their souls under his light.

I entered through a wooden door into a small room decorated with calligraphy at the entrance to the shrine complex where the Quran used to be recited and echoed into the mausoleum. At the top of the entrance into the main hall above a silver door, a poem by Jami, a fifteenth century poet and Sufi scholar was written in Persian with a deep message that caught my eyes. It was written:

This place is the Mecca of lovers,

Whoever came here incomplete, should become perfect.

Rumi’s tomb


I heard the plaintive sound of Nei (the reed flute), which fills the air with the sensational sense of sorrow esteemed with the smell of incense and rosewater. The place is mysteriously simple and divine. The people quietly pray, say Zikhr and chant poems in front of Rumi’s tomb, which is covered by a large cloth decorated with patterns, Quranic verses and designed with beautiful threads. The colourful tiled wall behind the tomb is ornamented by Arabic calligraphy taken from verses of the Quran. A large high hat is tied with a green turban placed over the coffin to symbolize the authority of Rumi. The hat resembles the tombstone and is the crown of a Sufi who united with God after his death and reaffirms that nothing in this world is permanent. In the hall, there are many other tombs of Rumi’s family including his father, Bahā ud-Dīn Walad and his son, Sultan Walad. They all have green turbans. There are also the tombs of Rumi’s followers and those who followed him from Balkh. They rest in peace with a white hat turban placed on their coffin.

The room next to the shrines used to be a Dervish lodge for Sema rituals, but today is used to display praying rug, dervish clothes, the hat and robe belonged to Rumi along with original copies of the Masnavi, Divan Kabir and other rare hand written Qurans.

In the courtyard around the mausoleum there is a kitchen which used to be a place to train dervishes. There are also several cells where dervishes used to live during their ritual practice. There is also a beautiful fountain in the middle of the courtyard.

The fire that Rumi lit on the world is still burning in the hearts and minds of all those lovers who wish to know where they came from and to where they are going to return.

As Rumi says:

Where I came from, why I came to this world

Where do I go to? Finale not showing me my home

Getting there:

There are no direct flights to Konya. Turkish Airlines runs regular flights from Gatwick and Heathrow to Konya via Istanbul. From London Victoria, both Gatwick Express and Southern have services to Gatwick but Southern is cheaper and the journey time is only a little longer. Heathrow is served by the tube (Piccadilly line) and Heathrow Express.

For more about Turkey and Konya, click here

Images and story © Mohammed Reza Amirinia

For more images of the Konya visit www.amirinia.com/turkey or click here

 

 

 

 

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