Souls cannot ascend without music

14 09 2010

‘Tis said, the pipe and lute that charm our ears
Derive their melody from rolling spheres;
But Faith, o’erpassing speculation’s bound,
Can see what sweetens every jangled sound.

We, who are parts of Adam, heard with him
The song of angels and of seraphim.
Our memory, though dull and sad, retains
Some echo still of those unearthly strains.

Oh, music is the meat of all who love,
Music uplifts the soul to realms above.
The ashes glow, the latent fires increase:
We listen and are fed with joy and peace.

-Rumi

as translated by R. A. Nicholson in ‘Persian Poems’, an Anthology of verse translations
edited by A.J.Arberry, Everyman’s Library, 1972





More on modern fundamentalism

7 07 2010

National Geographic does it again

The wildest dancing I saw in Lahore was not in a theater but in a place of worship. Late on a Thursday night hundreds of mostly young men gathered at the tomb of a 17th-century Sufi spiritual leader, or saint, named Shah Jamal. They formed a tight circle around a trio of drummers and a pair of long-haired dervishes, who whirled at dizzying speeds on a tiled courtyard slick from rain showers and crushed rose petals. Hashish smoke drifted over the crowd, along with chants of “Allah! Allah-u!” and the names of various saints. The dervishes collided, and a shoving match erupted. “It’s our version of rave,” a Punjabi friend later explained.

Actually there’s a bit more to it than that. Sufism has flourished in the subcontinent since its arrival centuries ago in the wake of Turkish armies. It centers on the veneration of saints, often with help from qawwals—singers of devo­tional songs whose mesmeric rhythms are said to induce spiritual ecstasy. Famous saints such as the 18th-century poet Bulleh Shah were once persecuted for their liberal and iconoclastic views. Today their graves are pilgrimage sites for millions of steadfast followers…
Read the rest of this entry »





The story of the decline of many things

11 09 2009

Thus a Muslim holy man has said: “in the beginning Sufism was a reality without a name, today it is a name without reality.”

-Jean Borella, The Secret of the Christian Way





Popular Sufism in South Asia

19 04 2009

shrine

From the December 18th, 2008 issue of The Economist, on popular Islam in Pakistan and India:

Pakistan’s southernmost state of Sindh, a vast desert bisected by the Indus river, is perhaps best known for its shrines. A few miles outside the city of Hyderabad, in sight of the Indus, a middle-aged dwarf called Subhan manages one of them. She found the shrine deserted a few years ago, and moved into it. It is a small shack, with a low doorway hung with cowbells, in the tradition of a Hindu temple. A dusty green shroud covers the grave. Incense burns at its foot. Subhan says it holds the dust of a medieval saint called Haji Pir Marad. Sometimes, she says, he wrestles with the Indus to prevent it from changing course. In fits of terrible rage, he has caused pileups on the road. She advises passing motorists to propitiate the saint with a modest gift of rupees. On a good day, she collects around 50 rupees (60 cents) from the travellers who stop to pray.

All the traffic, on that recent sunny day, was bound for the nearby town of Sehwan Sharif, where Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, one of Pakistan’s most prominent Sufi saints, is entombed. It was the 734th anniversary of his death, an event marked by an annual festival attended by several hundred thousand devotees. This event is known as Qalandar’s urs, or wedding-night, to signify his union with God. A three-day orgy of music, dancing and intoxication, literally and spiritually, the urs at Sehwan is one of the best parties in Pakistan, or anywhere.

Outside Qalandar’s shrine, a white marble monument, decorated with flashing neon, pilgrims work themselves into an all-night ecstasy. Tossing their long black hair, a dozen prostitutes from Karachi or Lahore have a place reserved by the shrine’s golden doorway, to dance a furious jig. It is the dhammal, a rhythmic skipping from foot to foot, for which Qalandar’s followers are well-known. Thousands are moshing to a heavy drumbeat. The air is hot and wet with their sweat. A scent of rose petals and hashish sweetens it. In a flash of gold, out in the crush, a troupe of bandsmen in braided Sergeant Pepper uniforms are blowing inaudibly into brass instruments, then lifting trumpets and trombones into the air as they dance the dhammal.

Fighting through the crowd, a stream of peasant pilgrims flows into the shrine. Many carry glittering shrouds, lovingly embroidered by a wife or mother, as an offering for the tomb. They will be bestowed with a poor man’s prayer, for a good harvest, debt relief, or a son. “Last year I told my master [Qalandar] that I would bring him a goat if he gave me a son. I have come to honour that promise,” said Muhammad Riaz Rahman, a shopkeeper from Multan, tugging a calm-looking billy, daubed with pink dye, through the crowd.

Read all of it here. Special thanks to a reader of this blog who provided the link.





Unlettered

31 03 2009

siyer-i_nebi_5

The Prophet is not called ‘unlettered’ because he was unable to write. He was called that because his ‘letters’, his knowledge and wisdom were innate, not acquired. What can partial intellect have that universal intellect has not? The partial intellect is not capable of inventing anything it has not seen before. Recall the story of the raven: when Cain killed Abel and stood not knowing what to do with the body. One raven killed another, dug out the earth, buried the dead raven and scratched the earth over the body. From this Cain learned how to dig a grave and bury a body. All trades are like this. The possessor of partial intellect requires instruction while those who have united the partial with the universal intellect and become one are prophets and saints.

-Mevlana Jalalu’ddin Rumi





Some Absorbing Work

13 03 2009

I am part of the load
Not rightly balanced
I drop off in the grass,
like the old Cave-sleepers, to browse
wherever I fall.

For hundreds of thousands of years I have been dust-grains
floating and flying in the will of the air,
often forgetting ever being
in that state, but in sleep
I migrate back. I spring loose
from the four-branched, time -and-space cross,
this waiting room.

I walk into a huge pasture
I nurse the milk of millennia

Everyone does this in different ways.
Knowing that conscious decisions
and personal memory
are much too small a place to live,
every human being streams at night
into the loving nowhere, or during the day,
in some absorbing work.

-Rumi





Only God I saw

9 01 2009

z_crucifijo_gema_gal

In the market, in the cloister–only God I saw.
In the valley and on the mountain–only God I saw.
Him I have seen beside me oft in tribulation;
In favour and in fortune–only God I saw.
In prayer and fasting, in praise and contemplation,
In the religion of the Prophet–only God I saw.
Neither soul nor body, accident nor substance,
Qualities nor causes–only God I saw.
I opened my eyes and by the light of His face around me
In all the eye discovered–only God I saw.
Like a candle I was melting in His fire:
Amidst the flames outflashing–only God I saw.
Myself with mine own eyes I saw most clearly,
But when I looked with God’s eyes–only God I saw.
I passed away into nothingness, I vanished,
And lo, I was the All-living–only God I saw.

-Baba Kuhi of Shiriz, as translated by Reynold A Nicholson, and found on this site





The Spirit of the Saints

8 10 2008

There is a Water that flows down from Heaven
To cleanse the world of sin by grace Divine.
At last, its whole stock spent, its virtue gone.
Dark with pollution not its own, it speeds
Back to the Fountain of all purities;
Whence, freshly bathed, earthward it sweeps again,
Trailing a robe of glory bright and pure.

This Water is the Spirit of the Saints,
Which ever sheds, until itself is beggared,
God’s balm on the sick soul; and then returns
To Him who made the purest light of Heaven.

– Rumi, as translated by R. A. Nicholson in ‘Persian Poems’, an Anthology of verse translations edited by A.J.Arberry, Everyman’s Library, 1972, found on this site