Sunday, 29 June 2008

Rumi: Body and Voice

In the whirling dance of the Mevlevi Sufis the position of the hands indicates the function of the ‘friend’ in connecting heaven and earth. One hand is raised with palm upwards and the other is lowered towards the earth. This can also be the function of Sufi poetry. As the Sufi remembers God in her/his whirling, attaining a state of ecstasy, so the Sufi poet is expressing that ecstasy in words which in turn become a conduit of the divine. This illustrates the ongoing assignment of the Sufi that has a metaphysical basis and is therefore timeless but must be anchored in the physical world. While the Sufi longs for union it is love that gives rise to this longing, and love that is the fuel for the journey, love is its destination, and love demands the return to the created world, and yet fana fi Allah, union with the divine, is the ineffable, the unspeakable, so how does the one who has returned deal with this paradox, and how does the one who has not yet attained speak about it? The attempt, even compulsion, to do so despite the inadequacy of any words is the defining factor of Sufi poetry.

Jalaluddin Rumi was both a poet and a dancer. He heard the Name of Allah speaking through all sounds. The spirit moved the body to dance the joy of the heart. As Rumi says in the following:

My love for you intoxicated me and made me dance.

I am intoxicated and in ecstasy, what can I do?

I will render the thanks of earth and heaven,

For I was earth, He made me Heaven (1)


Rumi recognized the importance of the body as a sign of the Divine when he said that, “The body is fundamental and necessary for the realization of the Divine Intention”(2)

1) Cited by J. C. Burgal in, “Ecstasy and Order” in The Legacy of Medieval Persian Sufism, ed. Leonard Lewisohn, Khaniqahi Nimatullahi Publications, 1992. p.65

2) Cited by Laleh Bakhtiar in, Sufi, London: Thames and Hudson, 1976, p.21)

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