Rumī’s Ghazal and the Mevlevī Samāʿ: A Dynamic Dichotomy of Movement and Stillness

November 5, 2021 by Essay Writer

The flowing white tennure, the rotating sikke, the twirling spin of the right foot, the turning hands – one pointing towards the heavens, one towards the earth- the revolving mass of the flesh, and the spiral gyrating of the spirit; nothing seems to be still. The entire world is lost in the spontaneous revolving movement that is full of energy and vitality, as if power radiates from within the core of this vivacious movement. The tranquil calm and serene expression of the Semāzen, however, belies a different tale altogether. The sure footed anchorage of the left foot and the aura of contentment surrounding the whirling body are in stark contradiction to the apparent frenzy of this spectacular dance – the Samāʿ. Unique to the Mevlevī Order founded upon the teachings and ideals of Maulānā Jalāluddīn Rumī, the Samāʿ is an exquisite symbolic representation of the idea of oneness amidst diversity, peace amidst turmoil and tranquility amidst movement. The ability to bring together such diverging dichotomies in an unnatural union is quintessentially Rumī, and is evident throughout his work and word. In his conception of God, we see Mercy and Wrath uniting as One, in his view of nature, the exquisite and the mundane come together in a delicate balance, and in his speech, voice transcends into silence. Similarly, in the circular movement of the body during the Samāʿ, the heart and soul become one with the surroundings, the exterior melts into interior and the form dissolves into the meaning. The Samāʿ, however, is not the only thing associated with Rumī that elicits a similar interplay of dichotomies and contradictions. The play between spontaneity and calm present in the Mevlevī dance is reflected in the form and meaning of Rumī’s ghazals, where energy is contained effectively within the parameters of metre and rhyme. This essay attempts to explore how Maulānā Jalāluddīn Rumī’s poetry, specifically the ghazal, achieves an anchored rootedness through the effective use of metre and rhyme, while simultaneously flowing spontaneously in a powerful surge of motion – an exquisite dichotomy that is incorporated in body and soul in the symbolic dance of the Mevlevī Samāʿ. The spontaneous movement within the confined structure of Rumī’s ghazal is a proof to the eccentricity of Maulānā Rumī’s creative expression. This creative expression is made manifest through the flow of active progress in the ghazal within the limitations of a poetic expression that fulfills metric and rhythmic qualifications, in addition to a common radīf. Rumī, restrained within the straitjacket of these boundaries, still brings out an entirely unrestrained form of poetic expression that never fails to astound the reader. The ghazal, “Ah che bi rang o bi neshān ke manam” is an effective example of this. Consider the first verse of the ghazal “Ah che bi rang o bi neshān ke manam ke binam merā chenān ke manam”“Oh, how colorless and formless I am! When will I ever see the am that I am?”This verse is full of a natural life that refreshes the reader and sets up a tone of intimacy between the Maulānā and the reader. The conversational tone and the simple, yet effective choice of words is such that it lends the ghazal a sense of naturalness, as if Maulānā is conversing with the reader over a cup of chae. Pure sincerity, and not glittering artificiality, adorns this setting. The authenticity in the long drawn “Ah” at the beginning sets up a tone of informality that immediately befriends the reader – a conversation between two intimates has now begun, where words are not premeditated before they are spoken. A natural outpour of beautifully aligned words follows next, again, in the same conversational tone. “You said: The secrets that you know, bring forth, put out, talk up!”Here, the persona of the ghazal addresses a being, presumably God. However, the tone again is one of energetic dialogue that naturally pours forth from a highly charged source. A paradox is established through portraying “secrets” as gushing forth, where the silent, concealed nature of a secret is turned upside down. The urgency in the tone, the immediate demand to lay bare all the hidden knowledge adds the element of frenzy and spontaneous rush that makes the ghazal appear as a result of a chaotic flow of words. The seventh, eighth and ninth verses, however, epitomize the sense of unarranged fluidity in the ghazal.“I said Friend, you are just like me! He said How can you speak of likeness to the obviousness I am? I said That’s it, that’s what you are! He said Silence! No tongue has ever uttered what I am. I said Since no tongue has given voice to you, Here I am! your unutterable exposition.” The rapid exchange of words between the “You” and the “I” is remarkable in its effect of creating the flow of raw burning energy in the ghazal. The responses are unprompted, impulsive and unrestrained, yet contained, shaped and influenced by the others’ response. Just like surging massive ocean waves, rushing forth towards the shore in a loud oblivion of any worldly constraints – until they crash against the solid mass of rocks that come in their way. The wave is tamed by the rock, and the “I” is breathless in its encounter with the “You”. This dynamism of spontaneous and surging flow is evident in all of Rumī’s ghazals in general, and this particular ghazal in specific, where the liveliness is almost tangible in its effectiveness. However, Rumī is a poet of exquisite genius. He gives the reader spontaneity interwoven with a sense of rigid anchorage, which gives footing to the overflowing current of the ghazal. What appears impulsive and unrestrained is, in actuality, in strict adherence to the constraints of rhyme and metre, and bound together with the thread of a radīf. For instance, consider the first bayt again. “Ah che bi rang o bi neshān ke manam ke binam merā chenān ke manam” The monosyllabic sound of “Ah”, “che”, “bi”, “rang” and “ke” in the verse give its deliverance a rhythmic quality akin to the beat of a drum. The energy that springs from within the words of the verse is not a coincidence – monosyllables have been effectively employed to produce this very energy. The khafīf metre has been adhered to in this ghazal, which has a xu-x-u-xu- metre. Here, “-” denotes a long syllable, “u” is used for a short syllable, while “x” is for a syllable that can be both long and short. Writing fluid poetry within the parameters of a metre of such rigid rules is indeed, what exalts Rumī as a poet. His verse seems to expand and contract, all at the same time. However, it is the radīf that is the true anchor of Rumī’s ghazals. Bürgel speaks in detail on the unifying characteristic of the radīf in “Speech is a ship, and meaning the sea”, hailing it as a device that not only brings acoustic coherence, but also adds thematic unity to Rumī’s verse. Bürgel defines the radīf as “one or more words, sometimes even a whole phrase, that follows right after the rhyme in every line of a poem, without any alteration.” (Bürgel 48) For instance, in “Ah che bi rang”, the repetition of the word “manam” at the end of every line qualifies it for the status of the radīf. When the word “manam” is repeated thirteen times, an obvious coherence is achieved. The radīf, however, contributes much more to the poem than acoustic coherence. As Bürgel puts it, “In Rumī’s ghazals, the radīf is not a mere ornament, and also not just a formal factor that imparts unity to the poem, but a strong vehicle of meaning which intensifies the message and the symbolism.” (Bürgel 50) The radīf “manam”, meaning “I am”, becomes important in reinforcing the theme of being and self that dominates the ghazal. While the ghazal speaks of self-annihilation – destruction of the self to discover the real self – the radīf “manam” becomes the axis around which the ghazal turns. The fixed nature of the ghazal in terms of its radīf and metre, while flowing in ecstatic exuberance at the same time is proof to the ability of Rumī to bring together spontaneity amidst rootedness in a meaningful union. The third bayt of “Ah che bi rang” beautifully elicits this idea. “kiyy shavad īn ravān man sākin īn chanīn sākin rawān ke manam” “When will my soul be still? It moves when motionless, the anima I am.”The movement in the poem is coupled with the stillness of a kind that does not restrict its movement, but helps it move with unmatchable grace and elegance – like the flowing soul (ravān) that is made more beautiful when the stillness (sākin) of love touches it.The ghazal “Morde bodam zende shodam” is another effective example. “Morde bodam zende shodam, gerye bodam khande shodam Daulati ishq āmad o man daulati pāyindā shodam”The rhythmic pattern of the line “Morde bodam zende shodam, gerye bodam khande shodam” achieves “phonetic concretization” (Bürgel 47) in the ghazal, where the ecstasy of the persona is highlighted through the brimming musicality of the line. The explosive sound of the “b” and the “d” sounds in “morde”, “bodam”, “zende”, “shodam”, “khande”, “daulati” and “āmad” adds to the volatility of the verse, while the “sh” sound, repeated thrice through the use of the word “shodam” and once in “ishq”, adds a spark of ignition to the flame of life that burns through these words. Again, the ecstatic aura of a loss of self control is hidden underlined by a very strict metre and radīf. Here the metre is sarī, i.e. xxu- xxu- -u-, while the radīf is “shodam”. The radīf in this case is special since it not only adds the explosive acoustic effect to the ghazal, but is an intelligent play on tense and verb. The word “shodam” is a suffix to a verb for the present tense. For instance, according to Google translator, “zende shodam” means “I live”, while “khande shodam” means “I laugh”. Without a verb before it, the “shodam” has no meaning. Moreover, the “shodam” signifies that the action is taking place right now, in the present. Thus, through the use of the word “shodam”, the message of movement, specifically in the present is highlighted, where stagnation nullifies the “shodam” and is detrimental to the being of man. Hence, within Rumī’s ghazal, there is a distinct life and spontaneity which is effectively tamed with the help of metre, rhyme (radīf) and rhythm.In this respect, Rumī’s ghazal is like a young river. In strictly geographical terms, a young river is defined as one that is close to its source, is high both in volume and velocity and has the power to erode all earth particles of sand and gravel that come along its path. Even so, this headstrong river has a current, invisible to the eye, which drives it forward in one path with tremendous thrust and power. Rumī’s ghazal, too, is as fresh and exciting as the youthful river. It is close to the source of the Truth, it is heavy with the load of imagery and metaphors and has multiple layers to its depths. It gushes forth in an ecstatic outpour of words, eroding all base elements of ignorance that it comes across. And just like the river, it is also disciplined with the strong thread of the radīf. All of the power and energy of the ghazal is contained within the unity of the rhyme, rhythm and metre of it, making sure the ghazal is coherent in its entirety and direction. Gushing forth from the matlāʿ, the first verse, and meandering its way to the maqtāʿ, the ghazal fulfills its likeness to the river. Franklin D. Lewis, understanding the river like the nature of the ghazal, sets out his translations in a unique pattern (Lewis). Each ghazal visually flows before the reader, winding its way around each verse, and is voluble with the load of its contents. Rumī himself may not have arranged his verses in this pattern, but Lewis, through the brilliance of his transcreation, recognizes and pays tribute to the “behre bekirān” that is Rumī’s ghazal. The effect of the visual impact can be better understood if the arrangement of the ghazal is studied, where the varying length and indentation of each line produce a unique image. For instance, in the translation of “Ay Yusuf-e Khwosh”, Lewis organizes the ghazal in the following way;_____________ _________________ ____________________ _____________ ______________ _______________ _____________ _________________________________ _________________ ____________________ __________________ ___________________ _____________________ _______________________ __________________ The fluid nature of the ghazal becomes apparent through its elegantly flowing form. It is through this creative visual impact that the reader beholds, quite literally, the ghazal as the metaphoric river of Rumī’s thoughts and words. It flows, winds, meanders, grows and shortens like the forceful, vigorous river. However, Lewis too, it seems, is sensitive to the concept of an anchorage, a unity amidst the flow. The arrangement of the verses, despite emanating a sense of radiant liveliness, is still coherent in its entirety, thus fulfilling the essence of Rumī’s dichotomy.The coherently flowing world of Rumī’s ghazal is, in essence, a microcosm of the image of Rumī’s concept of God and His worship. Spontaneity, selflessness, lack of control – all are central to Rumi’s thoughts and teachings – but not without a strong sense of control and rootedness. Just like the Parwānā (moth) circumambulates the Shamāʿ (flame) in a selfless oblivion of the world around it – yet there is fixedness in its centre of focus. It is this devotion to an unchanging centre, and the restless yet focused movement, that leads to the ascension of the soul to a level where angels transcend. The Shamāʿ/parwānā image is a recurrent one in Rumī’s work, and is a parallel to the image of the Tawāf – the symbolic enactment of circling the One Beloved, approaching His Unity from all angles. Only after the seven rounds of allegiance, can the spiritual journey of the Hajj be complete. Being static before the Kaaba for years and years cannot grant one the status of being a Hājī as the seven rounds of movement do. Interestingly, movement is usually typically identified with restlessness. Inaction does not coexist alongside progress – it is the stationary that is likened to the serene and calm. However, Rumī’s genius lies in the brilliance with which opposing dichotomies are brought together as one. In Rumī’s world, it is restlessness that brings calm and it is movement that brings rest. It is through the devoted, revered movement around the Beloved that raises the heart from the lowest of the low to the highest of the high. Just like the impulsively flowing ghazal that achieves focus and coherence at the same time, movement in Rumī’s thought and teachings, is deeply intertwined with the idea of anchorage. Without the one, the other cannot truly exist. As Rumī says,“It moves when motionless”This single line seems to incorporate the diverse, dynamic and inherently vast world of Maulānā Jalāluddīn Rumī into a nutshell. Every soul, every heart, every intellect, every body, every verse, every ghazal, every thought, every duā, every ibādāh – in short, every single atom of the universe of God is in the motionless movement that defines the very essence of existence. T.S. Eliot, in his poem “Four Quartets”, magnificently incorporates this idea. At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity (T.S.Eliot)Eliot seems to take us by the hand, from the realm of Rumī’s ghazal and teachings, back to the platform of the Semākhāne, where the whirling bodies and the spinning souls oscillate between the worlds of “flesh and fleshless”. Existence and non-existence become one at the place where movement and stillness are united. “At the still point, there the dance is”. The restlessness of the whirling dervish has a whole new meaning now, where it becomes “neither arrest nor movement”. Just like the ghazal that is spontaneous amidst restraint, just like the parwānā that is at calm amidst its frenetic circumambulation of the shamā, just like the Lover who finds rest in the motion of the tawāf of the Beloved, the rotating, selfless twirling of the Semāzen too, embodies calm, serenity and fixedness. The act of the Samāʿ itself, therefore, is an embodiment of the dichotomies Rumī exhibits in the form and meaning of his ghazal. The Mevlevī Samāʿ, though not the initiation of Maulānā himself, is not entirely removed from his influence either. Ibrahim Gamard traces the origins of the Samāʿ to Baghdad, where it existed as a spiritual exercise centuries before Rumī’s time (Gamard). Lewisohn further validates this claim as he writes, “In Islam, its (Samāʿ’s) background can be traced back at least to the time of Abfi’l-Qasim Junayd (d. 298/910) who… lived most of his life in Baghdad where Samāʿ-khānes, lodges dedicated to the performance of mystical musical concerts, had been operative since the second half of the 9th century.” (Lewisohn 5) The Samāʿ of that time was not unlike the Mevlevī Samāʿ of today in that the dance-like movements of the dervishes were inspired by recitations of the Holy Quran or Sufi songs. Gamard writes that the dervishes, in such an environment “would enter ecstatic spiritual states of consciousness”, where the physical movements would be in line with the recitations, yet would simultaneously belie a complete lack of control. Maulānā Rumī, though known to have whirled in ecstasy reciting his own poetry, did not initiate the ritual we know as the Mevlevī Samāʿ. Institutionalized systematically by Pir ʿAdel Chalebi (d.1461) (Lewis 461), the Mevlevī Samāʿ today is an elaborate ceremony with specific steps and instructions pertaining to the dress and movements of the Semāzen. Detailed manuals regarding definite instructions composed during the time of its institutionalization, outlining the proper conduct (adāb) of performing the Samāʿ, are even today, heavily relied upon. If the Samāʿ today is such a documented method of predetermined guidelines, but symbolizes, in essence, a rapturous joy of love for the Beloved, what then, is the reality of the Mevlevī Samāʿ? Exploring the answer to this question takes us back to the images we started off with – the white flowing frock (tennure), the tall conical cap (sikke), the black cloak (hirkā), the palms each facing heavens and earth, and the anchorage of the foot – all are deeply enshrined in the tarīqā of the Mevlevī Order. All of this is crucial in understanding how the Samāʿ, an act of ecstatic loss of control, is carefully contained within the parameters of predefined rules. In this way, the paradox of movement within stillness, control within a loss of control is as much central to the Mevlevī Samāʿ as it is to the ghazal. Maulānā Rumī, through the deliberate formation of his ghazal and the insightful concepts of his teachings, instructs us how one cannot forgo discipline even within elation. This fundamental lesson is also central to the Mevlevī Samāʿ; “The foremost point of etiquette upon which all the Sufis are agreed, is that silence and stillness must reign throughout Samāʿ notwithstanding the participant becoming affected by ecstasy and rapture (wajd)” (Lewisohn 8). The Semāzen, therefore, must adhere to and be sensitive to the dichotomies that Rumī has employed throughout his word and work. The Mevlevī Samāʿ, although in its modern day form may not be what Rumī imagined Samāʿ as in the 13th Century, however, it is still essentially bound to Rumī’s teachings in terms of the fundamental concepts they share. The Mevlevī Samāʿ, just like the ghazal, is the embodiment of the thoughts and ideas of Maulānā Jalāluddīn Rumī. While each word, verse, metre and rhyme employed in the ghazal is symbolic of the dichotomy of a composed stillness amidst spontaneous movement, each bow, each turn, each halt of the Mevlevī Samāʿ is a physical representation of the same creative thought of Maulānā Rumī. In the act of the Samāʿ, both the physical and the spiritual come together in a blissful union that transcends the boundaries of existence into non-existence.Works CitedBürgel, J. Christoph. Speech is a Ship and Meaning the Sea. n.d.Gamard, Ibrahim. August 2009. Dar-al-Masnavi. 12 December 2012 <>.Lewis, Franklin D. Rumi: Past and Present, East and West. England: Oneworld Publications, 2000.Lewisohn, Leonard. “The Sacred Music of Islam: Sama in the Persian Sufi Tradition.” JSTOR (1997): 1-33.T.S.Eliot. Four Quartets.

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