The miracles attributed to Mevlânâ Jelaleddin Rumi, whose ideas and love of God and Man have enlightened men for centuries, have also been a source of inspiration for miniature paintings.
Mevlâna Jelaleddin Rumi is surely one of the most exalted beings in the history of mankind. Love of, and unity with, one’s fellowman and love of God are virtually synonymous with his name. Mevlânâ was a groundbreaker in eliminating the distinction between believers and non-believers. According to him, man is noble and pure by nature. But some people become warped and deviate from their natural-born purity. Mevlânâ’s aim was to save mankind, who are ignorant of the Divine Essence and its immortality. Love lies at the heart of his greatest work, the ‘Mesnevî’. Only through love can man confront eternity, and love was therefore Mevlânâ’s key point of departure.
Over the intervening 733 years since his death, Mevlânâ’s love has continued to be a beacon for mankind. Following his death in Konya in 1273, his son Sultan Veled came to symbolize the Mevlevi order as an institution. Mevlevi philosophy developed apace under the Ottomans, teaching tolerance and love of mankind down the centuries.
A LIGHT EMANATING FROM BALKH
Mevlânâ Jelaleddin Rumi was born in 1207 in the city of Balkh in Khorasan, a Central Asian city of entirely Turkic people, where his father was a highly respected and beloved scholar. When Mevlânâ was five the family left Balkh and lived briefly in the city of Nishapour, now in Iran. From there they moved to Baghdad, whence they embarked on a Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, after which they resided in Anatolia, settling first at Erzincan, then at Akşehir and finally at Larende. The Seljuk ruler Alâeddin Keykubâd eventually invited them to Konya. When his father died in 1231, Mevlânâ was 24 years old. Following in his father’s footsteps, he completed his training at Aleppo and Damascus.
The year 1244 was a turning point in the life of Mevlânâ when a wandering dervish by the name of Şemseddin Muhammed Tebrizî, better known as Shems of Tabriz, arrived in Konya. The spot where the two met became known as the ‘place where two seas came together’. Following his encounter with Shems, Mevlânâ’s life changed completely. He spent all his time with Shems, which aroused angry resentment against Shems in Konya. Shems went into hiding, but Mevlânâ, unable to go on without him, found him and brought him back. When Mevlânâ devoted himself entirely to the whirling ceremony, the reaction against Shems was unleashed all over again. This time Shems vanished for good. This second disappearance was Mevlânâ’s ruin. Gradually he came to identify himself with Shems, so much so that he signed Shems’ name under some of his own ghazels. After Shems, his second closest friend was Salahaddin Zerkub, whose successor, Hüsameddin Çelebi, assisted in the composition of Mevlânâ’s famous work, the ‘Mesnevî’. When Mevlânâ died in 1273, he was mourned in Konya for forty days.
INSPIRATION TO POETS AND PAINTERS
According to Mevlânâ’s philosophy, everything is a manifestation of God. Even opposites such as the beautiful and the ugly, good and evil, guilt and innocence, rich and poor, Christian and Muslim, black and white are all equal as manifestations of the Divine. The fundamental principle of Mevlevi thought is to love God by seeing Him in man as in all of His creations, and to cast blame on no one. In a message he delivered in 1958, Pope John XXIII said that he bowed with reverence before the memory of Mevlânâ on behalf of the entire Roman Catholic world. The great German poet Goethe was inspired by German translations of Mevlânâ’s poetry. Inspired by a miniature, a painting of Mevlânâ by the famous painter Rembrandt has appeared in numerous books about the Islamic thinker and poet. Both Gandhi and the great Pakistani leader and poet Mohammad Iqbal were great admirers of Mevlânâ. And in the scholarly world, the English orientalist Reynold Nicholson, affectionately nicknamed ‘the dervish’, devoted his first studies to the poetry and teachings of Mevlânâ, which continued to occupy him for the rest of his life. Nicholson, who began translating the ‘Mesnevî’ in 1925, took no less than twenty years to complete his translation of this gargantuan work, which consists of numerous stories told in over 25 thousand couplets.
MIRACLES TOLD THROUGH MINIATURES
There are countless miracles attributed to Mevlânâ, which are described in detail in a work titled ‘Âriflerin Menkıbeleri’ in Turkish, originally written in Persian by Eflâkî. An abbreviated Persian version was translated into Turkish by the Mevlevî sheikh Mahmud Dede in the 16th century. There are two illuminated manuscripts of this work, one with 22 miniatures in the Topkapı Palace Library, and another with 29 miniatures in the Pierpoint Morgan Library at New York.
In one of the miniatures a ship carrying merchants is seen on its way to Alexandria. The ship has been caught in a great storm and everyone has begun praying to the hallowed personages in whom he believes. One among them who believes in the greatness of Mevlânâ appeals to him for help. Standing in the distance, Mevlânâ stretches out his hand towards the ship and saves it. Having witnessed the rescue, the merchants purchase various gifts upon arriving at Alexandria and travel to Konya to offer thanks to their savior.
In another miniature Mevlânâ and those with him have heard that a monstrous creature dwells in the water and that every year it captures a man or an animal, dragging it down below the surface to its death. Mevlânâ goes to the lake to have a look. Fully clothed, he plunges into the water, captures the creature and brings it to land.
Confessing in a language comprehensible to all that it recently killed a youth but has now repented, the monster, whose face resembles that of a man and whose feet those of a bear, pleads for mercy. Mevlânâ forgives it, and the monster dives back into the water and disappears from view.
One day some butchers buy an ox to make a sacrifice. But the ox escapes and appears before Mevlânâ. Speaking like a man, it begs for help. Mevlânâ strokes the ox and secures its freedom.
Another miniature tells the following story: the Anatolian Seljuk Sultan Rükneddin Kılıç Aslan IV becomes a disciple of Mevlânâ and acknowledges him as a father. One day Mevlânâ is angered by the sultan and walks out on the gathering. A few days later the emirs summon Sultan Rükneddin to Aksaray to discuss how they are going to resist the Tatars. Mevlânâ has advised the sultan not to go. But the sultan goes anyway and the emirs, whose real intent is to kill him, have him strangled. Before he expires, the Sultan calls out Mevlânâ’s name at the last minute. Miraculously, Mevlânâ, who at that moment is whirling at the medrese in Konya, which is quite far from Aksaray, hears his cries and plugs up his ears with his fingers to drown out the Sultan’s screams. The miniature depicts Mevlânâ with his fingers in his ears, with a smaller depiction of the strangling of the sultan in the upper right-hand corner.
You can find all these miniatures in ‘Mevlânâ Celaleddin Rumi and The Whirling Dervishes’ by Talat Sait Halman ve Metin And.