In Iran Episode 20

About Nilanjan Hajra

Nilanjan Hajra, 49, is a poet, traveller and gourmet. He earns his living as a journalist.

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“The flavour of the bait overcame the sufferings of the trap. Otherwise existence would have been impossible.”

Mortaza Barin was deeply surprised. Khoy is not really a hot tourist destination, so what really induced me to mark it in bold fonts in my Iran tour plan – he asked point blank in his mail. In reply I had sent him the quotation above, and had exclaimed how could I visit Iran and not visit the tomb of the man whose words contained such ignition of life. Shams Al-Din Muhammad aka Shams-i-Tabrizi.


Mortaza appreciated my reply. He would, because he was In-Charge of the International Affairs and Relationships of the Trustee of Shams-i-Tabrizi. I had sought him out on the net. We struck a friendship and had long exchanges. Finally when Mortaza was convinced that I was indeed going to land in Khoy, in West Azerbaijan, some 800 Km north of Tehran, he made it clear that he would be hurt if I chose to stay in a hotel instead of his home. God knows when all this had really begun, but the definitive spark was a book titled “Me & Rumi: The Autobiography of Shams-i-Tabrizi”, edited and translated from Farsi into English by a renowned scholar of Sufi literature, William C. Chittick, which my colleague Rupsa Ray had gifted me on my birthday. It is by no means the autobiography of Shams-i-Tabrizi. It is a loosely edited combustive collection of Shams’ exchanges with Rumi and his disciples. To appreciate this book in its entirety, a whole life is insufficient; or it might change the whole course of a life in moments. My first serious brush with Sufism was during my friendship with Madiha Aijaz, a photographer from Karachi, Pakistan. Before her I hadn’t met any practicing Sufi in my life. I know from this friendship that those who honestly endeavour to walk the path of Sufisim are remarkable people.

In the history of Sufism, Shams-i-Tabrizi is a dense, deep and long chapter. For an initiation into Shams, it is helpful to embark upon the pages of a phenomenal book titled ‘Diwan-i-Shams-i-Tabrizi’. I do not know of any other collection of poetry, in any language, which after 750 years of being written, is so widely read not only by Sufi followers, but also by pundits of literature, simple poetry lovers, singers, ranging from those of the Jazz, Pop and Rock genres Qawalis and Ghazals. The Diwan is alive in fat volumes stacked in musty smelling huge dark libraries to Facebook flaunts and Whatsapp love missives. Put simply, a Diwan is a collection of poetry. Therefore Diwan-i-Shams-i-Tabrizi ought to mean a Collection of Poetry of Shams-i-Tabrizi. Well, the translation is correct, that, however, it is not. Not a single couplet of the Diwan was written by Shams. It was written by Maulana Jalaluddin Muhammad Balkhi alias Rumi! At the end of most Farsi and Urdu ghazals come couplets where the authors of the poems reveal their names. It’s known as Takhallus. William Chittick informs us that out of the 3200 Ghazals collected in the Diwan, about one third have their Takhallus mentioned as Shams. Is there any other similar example in world literature? I am not aware of any. But why did Rumi do this? It’s a vast chapter ridden with numerous narratives and counter narratives.


Let’s not lose ourselves in that labyrinth. Here it may be sufficient to remember that the meeting between the two had revolutionized Rumi’s existence. The date has been pinned fairly beyond controversy: October 11, 1244. A bazaar in Konya in the Anatolia region of Turkey. From somewhere appeared an unkempt Darvish. He was sixty. Muhammad Jalaluddin Balkhi at that point of time was a well known Islamic teacher. He was 37. Then the two met in the bazaar. In the lexicon of Sufi belief the word ‘suddenly’ is missing, because behind all that happens is a design. Therefore whether that encounter was ‘sudden’ is a matter of contest, into which I refuse to be drawn. What is documented is that Rumi changed elementarily after Shams came into his life. His teaching sessions went for a toss. Days merged into night and again rolled into days, Rumi remained engrossed in conversation with Shams, which followed singing, dance and the ecstasy of Sama (1).

Many of Rumi’s students became furious. This continued for two years. Suddenly Shams disappeared. Rumi completely lost it. Finally his son Sultan Awalad launched a combing search, located Shams at Aleppo in Syria and brought him back to Konya. But he stayed for a few months only. In 1247 he again simply upped and left. Vanished. Rumi wrote Diwan-i-Shams-i-Tabrizi. It is said the legendary poet, when asked to express the essence of his life, had uttered two simple lines: “The result of my life is not more than three expressions / Raw, cooked, burnt.” It is unsupported by any document. What is documented is devastating: Hasil-e-az-in seh sukhanam baysh neest / Sokhtam wa sokhtam wa sokhtam. What’s been achieved here, I have not but more than three expressions: I went up in flames and I went up in flames and I went up in flames! (The Diwan: Ghazal 1768).

Meeting of Jalal-al-Din Rumi and Molla Shams-al-Din

But then where did Shams go leaving behind such creative devastation? It has been claimed by researchers that he was murdered in Konya itself by Rumi’s students. The city has a tomb of Shams. Later researchers have doubted the murder theory, since no evidence in its support could be produced. It has been claimed that Shams died in Khoy in 1248. His tomb is there for hundreds of years. There are tombs of Shams-i-Tabrizi in many other places. That is how perhaps it should be when it comes to the phenomenon called Shams. Yet after some research into the researches I was convinced that Khoy is the place. And I had to be there. I had no choice. None.


Sama –


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