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Home Articles Articles The annual festival commemorating Jalaluddin Rumi

The annual festival commemorating Jalaluddin Rumi

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Every year, the streets of Konya are decorated with images of whirling dervishes, the Islamic mystics who seek to commune with the infinite through ecstatic dance. From lampposts and bus shelters, they look beatifically down on the throngs bustling along cold streets.   These images mark the annual festival commemorating Jalaluddin Rumi, who conceived the dervish dance as part of his lifelong quest for religious rapture.

He is not only Konya's most famous son, but also a poet and visionary revered by millions as one of history's great spiritual masters.  For a week every December, this Anatolian city of nearly two million becomes the world capital of the Rumi cult. Pilgrims and tourists fill hotels and pay homage at the elaborately decorated mausoleum where he is buried. There are lectures, exhibitions and twice-daily performances of the hypnotic dervish dance.

This annual event is Konya's main tourist attraction. Dozens of shops sell porcelain dervishes, dervish necklaces, dervish tie clips and cigarette lighters bearing what is supposed to be Rumi's portrait. Kernels of spirituality are still to be found here, but they float on a sea of kitsch and political controversy. Rumi, who is known in Turkey as Mevlana, or "our master," was born in Central Asia in 1207. His father, himself a Muslim mystic, fled before the advance of Genghis Khan's horde, and a few years later the family arrived in Konya. Here Rumi became a passionate lover of God, and here he wrote thousands of poems that overflow with awe at the power of love. He believed that truth is to be found in each human heart and proclaimed himself "not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu, Buddhist, sufi or zen."  "The door is open to everybody," he wrote. "There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground."  Rumi's esoteric and pantheistic teachings, along with his belief that "worldly power means nothing," have irritated the political authorities in many places. Modern Turkey is no exception.  The founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, was an outspoken secularist, and soon after taking power in 1923 he banned all religious orders, which he considered bastions of ignorance. Dervishes could meet and perform their rituals only in secret until 1954, when their order was legalised and the annual celebration in Konya was allowed to resume. But the dancers who perform in Konya every December are members of a folklore troupe, not true dervishes seeking to transport themselves "hundreds of miles from the mind," as Rumi wished. At the museum here, which houses not only Rumi's tomb but also his robes and original manuscripts of his poems in gloriously illuminated Persian, some Turkish visitors complain that the government is suppressing part of the great man's message.

The force of Rumi's passion, especially his belief that the intellect cannot explain the ecstasy of love, has won him devoted followers throughout the Muslim world and beyond.  Within a century after his death, his ideas began to penetrate the West, where they influenced cultural figures from Chaucer to Samuel Johnson. Some people consider him an exponent of mystical eroticism, or a kind of wild-man spirituality. They take his ecstatic spirit but ignore the discipline that should accompany it.  Rumi looked forward to his death as "the time of joyful meeting," and it came upon him on Dec. 17, 1273. Clergy of all faiths wept behind his funeral cortege. According to a contemporary account, a Greek Orthodox priest said in his tribute, "Rumi is the bread that everyone needs to eat."

Adapted from an article on the internet, with thanks.


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