(Dr Shujaat Ali Quadri)
“When we are dead, do not seek our grave in the earth, but find it in the hearts of men,” reads the epithet of the tomb of Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi located in Konya, Turkey. True to the words of the greatest mystical maverick, people all over the world have cast him into the hospices of their hearts. Nowhere has it found such a permanent place as in India, the land of sages and Sufis. In fact, Sufis like Rumi and Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi are stars in the firmament of Indo-Turkish relations. From ancient history to the modern era, the bridge of Sufism has held the two great countries of the world together. As Turkey calibrates its policy towards India under its Asia Anew doctrine, India has also reciprocated by emphasizing the Sufi or spiritual ties between the two countries.
The exchange of Sufi thoughts between India and Turkey dates back to the period of the Delhi Sultanate in the 13th century. However, when the Mughals ruled India, Sufi lodges in Ottoman cities became regular hosts of their Indian guests. Not only Sufis, but even diplomats traveled the two countries and brought back scholarly texts to their countries to translate and disseminate among the nobles and the masses.
During this culturally and politically dynamic period, the Hindu scriptures became a subject of scholarly debate among Muslim Sufis. Several important scriptures and popular works were translated from Sanskrit into Persian and Arabic – the two languages of power and scholarship at that time. The most notable work that was translated was the Hindu epic poem Mahabharata. The task was commissioned by none other than Emperor Akbar. His learned courtier Naqib Khan translated the period work into Persian and named it Razmnama (Book of War). The other translations that followed were Rajatarangini and Ramayana. Likewise, poems and quatrains by classical Sufis like Rumi were translated into Sanskrit and later into Hindi.
One of the illustrious modern examples of Rumi’s poetry translated into Hindi is Nishabd Nupur, a translation of 100 ghazals of Rumi by a Delhi University professor, Dr. Balram Shukla.
In fact, one of Rumi’s longest poems, The Devotees Are One Soul, is said to have been inspired by the Upanishads because it is very close to the meaning contained in the great Sanskrit texts.
Sufi-Vedantic interactions gave rise to the concept of Waḥdat al-Wujud (oneness of being). This has been the sine qua non of Sufi traditions in South Asia ever since.
sufi takiya (lodge)
When these South Asian Sufis traveled to the Ottoman Empire, they established their own schools there and these Sufi schools or centers, called tekke or takiya, have been popular to this day. They were well established in Aleppo in modern Syria, Baghdad in modern Iraq, Istanbul and Edirne in modern Turkey, even Sofia in modern Bulgaria and Prizren in modern Kosovo.
One of Istanbul’s best-known Sufi takiya is the Horhor Tekke in Üsküdar, which was recently renovated. According to archival documents, some Mughal and Indian diplomatic missions recognized the significance of the Horhor Tekke. Imam Muhammed Serdar was a member of the diplomatic delegation of Tipu Sultan, ruler of the kingdom of Mysore based in southern India in the 18th century, and had stayed in this tekke where he was buried after his death.
Sheikh Sirhindi or Imam Rabbani
In Turkey, the most famous and ubiquitous Indian mystical figure is the 16th century Indian Sufi, Ahmad al-Faruq al-Sirhindi, also known as Imam Rabbani. The collection of his letters known as Mektubat-e Rabbani enjoys the status of a Sufi magnum opus and this book can be found in all Sufi libraries and takiya in Turkey.
Few details are available on Sheikh Sirhindi’s period in Turkey or his direct interactions with Turkish travellers, documents from the Ottoman archives gather stray strands from the 19th century.
“Famous Baghdad-based Sufi Khalid-i Shahrazuri met Indian traveler and spiritual seeker Mirza Rahimullah Azimabadi, who told him about Imam Rabbani and his disciple Abdullah Dihlevi. Shahrazuri soon visited Delhi in 1809 and frequented the circles of Imam Rabbani’s followers, especially Dihlevi. He spent over a year learning the teachings of Imam Rabbani. Shahrazuri returned to Baghdad in 1813. According to Ottoman records, Dihlevi also sent his followers to Anatolia to establish takiyas,” an article reads. Likewise, there are anecdotes of later Sirhindi family members, such as Halil Efendi and Sheikh Masumi, who received state hospitality from the Ottoman sultans.
Rumi, the Indian “connection”
Like his poetry and philosophy, Jalaluddin Rumi has a mystical connection to India. Shamsuddin de Tabrez to whom he had dedicated his collection of Ghazaliat under the name of Diwan e Shams e Tabrezi is said to have Indian ancestry. According to the orientalist HA Rose, he was probably of Indian origin who identified himself with Shamsuddin Tapriz of Multan, a great contemporary saint and who received the nickname of Tap-riz or “pouring heat” because he brought the sun closer to this place. Dr. Rasih Guven also supports this view and states that his father Khawand Alauddin was an Indian and a new convert to Islam and his name was Govind, a Sanskrit word.
Although Rumi’s works are literary works of a Muslim jurist and mystic, written in the Persian language, they have crossed the barriers of language, religion and culture to reach different peoples belonging to different civilizations and cultures.
The first printing of Masnavi (the Persian version) was in Cairo in 1835. In India, however, Rumi arrived much earlier. Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, the great guide of the Chishti Sufi order, wrote a commentary on Rumi’s Masnavi in the 14th century.
Rumi’s greatest influence on Indian culture in the modern era was the poet and philosopher Muhammad Iqbal, who considered Rumi his spiritual guide and “the prince of the caravan of love”.
Poets and saints of the Bhakti tradition, like their Sufi counterparts, have always been drawn to Rumi’s message and even today Rumi continues to inspire many neo-religious movements like Radhaswami. His Persian verses when sung with Dhrupad manifested in a unique confluence of words and rhythm.
Dr. Shukla says it in the introduction to Nishabd Nupur, “Rumi advocates the oneness of existence which leads to the cessation of hatred, and therefore makes love inevitable.” This message has never been more relevant than today. It will not just bind countries, it will bind people into one entity, a wajud.
(The author is director of the Indo Islamic Heritage Foundation)