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A grave in the Juniper Park

While in Konya, Rumi’s shrine overawes but it is at the neglected grave of Shams Tabriz that the real connection with the divine happens and Rumi’s masnavi starts making sense

A grave in the Juniper Park

“Beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and devil are fighting there, and the battlefield is the heart of man”, Fyodor Dostoevsky writes in The Brothers Karamazov. I’ve been to the graves of many saints and sinners, fascinated by both. This is what you feel when you visit Konya — the presence of both devil and God (devil was an angel wasn’t he?)

Rumi’s grave carries the awe-inspiring aura of a saint. I call it aura because it is carefully crafted — to inspire devotion. The wooden doorway smoothened by touches of devotion is covered with an overhanging inscription in golden letters; “Ya Hazrat Maulana”.

If you read Masnavi-e-Muanvi, it is full of love, beauty and devotion; paradoxically it is for one man Shams of Tabriz. We have read about the inter-changeability of Ishq-e-Majazi and Ishq-e-Haqiqi. But back to Rumi’s grave in the city of Konya.

The big dome is white from the inside. There is a row of larger than life graves on the right, as you enter through the wooden doorway. They are lined up straight, with big, coiled turbans of green shiny cloth resting on the grave-heads. A beautiful and grand chandelier hangs from the roof. At the head of these row of graves is the biggest grave with the biggest turban coiled and resting on the grave-head.

I realise that the dead dervishes are arranged as if in congregation with Maulana as the Imam. The Ayahs of Quran are inscribed in gold all around on walls, among niches and cornices. The whole thing is crafted to inspire awe and devotion born out of awe.

It is magnificent, no doubt, but just that. Despite the hordes of visitors, the place is quiet, except for the soulful symphony of lute playing in the background. This music can be heard in the whole khanqah besides the clicks of cameras of Chinese tourists.

I come out overawed. Devotion I do not find.

Shams grave

All around the main building of the khanqah are many small mini-tombs. One of them is of architect Sinan — Mimar Sinan — the designer of Topkapi Palace and many other marvellous buildings of Ottoman Turkey. A few others belong to Grand Viziers and Pashas of Ottomans. Interestingly, I also spot the grave of our very own Iqbal Lahori (this was the inscription). It is a ‘diplomatic’ grave in the sense that Iqbal is spiritually re-buried under the shadow of his Murshid. This was done somewhere in the 1960s and we don’t know whose idea it was.

The dome from outside is a unique shining bright blue, the Central Asian blue. The colour of sky is mixed with earth and it turns special because here the twain do meet. The rooms around the khanqah are a small museum — with life-like statues of dervishes managing the khanqah. There is a special room for Admin dervish (yes they do have them).

I sit for a while on a bench earnestly trying to feel all that I have read. I could not. With the fading sound of lute symphony, playing out from hidden speakers, I come out and head towards my next reason for coming to Konya. Rumi for me would always remain in the pages of Masnavi.

There is a 14th century mosque as you walk back from Rumi’s shrine to that of Tabriz and tucked away behind this copy of Blue Mosque is a small park. In that park lies the grave of the soul of Masnavi — of Shams of Tabriz. The Mazar is a sort of a small mosque as compared to the grandiose structures I had just visited. It is surrounded by ancient Juniper trees twisted in their sad magnificence. The birds chirp while children play. Old Turkish men sitting idling away are a striking presence. They are perhaps talking about Erdogan.

As I enter the mosque serving as the last resting place of the custodian of soul of Masnavi, I am met with a soothing darkness with light filtering only through high stained-glass windows. Besides me was another man, sitting saying his prayers. The grave is in one corner. It is again larger than normal but not abnormally large as the ones in Rumi’s shrine. The grave-head is covered by a biggish Dervish fez. There are no visible signs of gold engravings except for the standard names of God, Prophet and four Righteous Caliphs. They are indeed painted in gold.

The grave is lonely as is the life it represents. There is no sound except what is filtered in from the park outside. No sound of crafted or manufactured CD playing lute; just the sound of silence almost mournful. Here, I start to feel again. The poetry of Masnavi and other works that I had read begin to glow in some part of my head and the meaning starts to pour in. The sound of silence and sublimity of darkness begin to hint of divinity and devotion, and all the beauty that comes in between. Bulleh Shah comes in and says, ‘Weh Bulhia Asan Marna Nahin…Gor Piya Koi Hor’.

I come out with a sad satisfaction, and sit on the bench in the park of twisted Juniper trees. The mosque is in a shabby condition; its single minaret in need of repair. I sit down musing on the deliberate neglect of the grave Shams Tabrizi whilst the body is kept in obvious splendour.

I observe that the park is full of men with headgears and women with abayas. I see a woman walk in from one side. It is obvious she does not belong to that conservative park. I can feel accusatory eyes follow her — with disdain. I observe because as she walks by in her stilettos, there is an obvious pause in the activities. Oblivious she comes and sits down facing Shams’ mazar. Quietly saying what she wanted to say, lowering and lifting her head in perhaps her unique way of praying, she sits for another few minutes. Then, lifting her head in determination or defiance, she stands up and walks away.

The park suddenly normalises, ignoring that bad intrusion. Life goes on in the park of magnificently twisted and sad Juniper trees, now that the sinner is gone.

Kashif Noon

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Is a former civil servant and now a development professional, currently based in Urumqi China.

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