An introduction to a celebrated mystic

This is from a book whose acquisition – more that 15 years ago – is firmly engrained in my mind. For many a year, it was something I could dip in at any time and imagine myself making the journey described… However I shall discourse about the book sometime else. For now, I will introduce a celebrated mystic and poet as comes from its pages, as the author makes a very salient point about religion – well, one religion.

~~ On the other side of the central aisle were some very reserved men; and a stout, talkative lawyer with particoloured shoes; who was not reserved at all. When he heard I was going to Konya, he bounded up and down in his seat in great excitement.

“Aha! Konya!” he cried. “Poum pom! Pom poum! Jelal et Tin Rumi! Brrm brrm! Pa pa pa pe pi po!” 

Unable to contain himself, he sprang into the aisle and whirled around stiffly a few times with outstretched arms, before dropping into his seat again and mopping his brow. It was rather Sir Jack in our little compartment. “Jelal et Tin Rumi,” he repeated in a voice both portentous and full of laughter, panting a little.

He was referring to a celebrated mystic poet of the thirteenth century, who founded in Koyna, the order of the Whirling Dervishes.

(And then)

Another train pulled in alongside; I leaned out of the little window, to see if this might by any chance be the train I ought to be in, and found myself face to face with Shenay’s father. The Ankara train had left an hour ago, but it was still here. The fat lawyer waved at me from the dim interior. “Brrm brrm! “ I heard faintly. “Pe pi po! Jelal et Tin Rumi!”

(After this, the traveller finally arrives in Koyna)

Beyond the bus station, through a tangle of streets is the Tekke of the Whirling Dervishes.

Islam is rather a stark religion. It is very well for the Arabs, who have always dwelt in a terrestial desert and look on a spiritual desert as sufficiently cosy for any reasonable man; but for such as Persians, Indians and Turks, pure Islam lacked something. The first two made up for this by taking on various deviations of their own; the Turks remained good orthodox Sunnite Muslims but somehow fell a lack. The dervish orders supplied some of the msissing emotion and mysticism.  Most of the Janissaries belonged to the Bektashi order, which had some special appeal for them. Then there were the Rufais, widely known in Europe as the Howling Dervishes (My interjection – umm… I seem to refer a Fitzgerald couplet of Omar Khayyam. But later) , through their habit of inducing religious ecstasy by howling the name of God repeatedly until, overcome by exhaustion, they fell down. The Howling Dervishes also used to cut themselves with knives and brand themselves with red-hot irons, in the cause of union with the infinite.

The Whirling Dervishes, as the name implies, used to whirl.

جلال الدین محمد بلخى or better جلال‌الدین محمد رومیor even  مولانا (as he is better known in Iran….oh so sorry, I mean… Jelal et Tin Rumi (the Turkish variation) came from Balkh, the ancient Bactria,  where the camels also come from. It is between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, south of the Oxus. He came to Konya in the time of Sultan Ala et Tin Kaykobat, the skilled Seljuk draughtsman and bowmaker. He became interested in Sufi mysticism, performed miracles and wrote a long poem in Persian called the Mesnavi, which contains 30,000 couplets based on Sufi lore. It is said to be a work of considerable merit and propounds a number on pantheistic ideas. Since the whole universe is an emanation of God, the whole universe is God; and the goal of the man of faith is to enter into unity with God. The twirling, the howling and the red-hot knives are all devices for distracting the worshipper’s mind from earthly things, until in a trance-like state he becomes ecstatically conscious of his union with the Deity….

The Whirling Dervishes did not whirl very fast. Their whirling was a slow and stately spinning action, with one arm across the chest and the other flung out, forward and upwards; it was performed to the mystrious music of the dervish flutes.

– This was the account of R.P.Lister in his 1960s book Turkey Observed. It is a gem of travel book, written in a wonderful and idiosyncratic idiom, and enlivened by wry asides, the necessary history and above all, those endearing line drawings. The book is one of my most prized possessions and I was so relieved when I found it was among those I had saved from the massive despoiliation of February 2008.


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