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Konya and the Shrine of Rumi

Listed under Sacred Spaces in Konya, Turkey.

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Occupied for nearly 4000 years, the city of Konya is famous for the shrine of the Sufi poet Rumi. Born in 1207 in Khurasan (contemporary Afghanistan), Jalal al-Din Rumi was the son of an Islamic scholar. At the age of 12 he and his family made a pilgrimage to Mecca and then settled in the town of Konya in 1228. Initiated into Sufism, Rumi studied in Aleppo and Damascus, returned to Konya in 1240, and began teaching as a Sufi sheikh. Within a few years a group of disciples gathered around him, due to his eloquence, theological knowledge and engaging personality.

In 1244 a strange event occurred that was to profoundly change Rumi’s life and give rise to the extraordinary outpouring of poetry for which he is famous today. A wandering mystic known as Shams al-Din of Tabriz came to Konya and began to exert a powerful influence on Rumi. Despite his position as a teacher, Rumi became devoted to Shams al-Din, ignored his own disciples and departed from scholarly studies. Jealous of his influence on their master, a group of Rumi’s students twice drove the dervish away and finally murdered him in 1247.

Overwhelmed by the loss of Shams al-Din, Rumi withdrew from the world to mourn and meditate. During this time he began to manifest an ecstatic love of god that was expressed through beautiful poetry, listening to devotional music and trance dancing. Over the next twenty-five years, Rumi’s literary output was phenomenal. In addition to the Mathnawi, consisting of nearly 25,000 rhyming couplets, he composed 2500 mystical odes and 1600 quatrains. Virtually all of the Mathnawi was dictated to his disciple Husam al-Din in the fifteen years before Rumi’s death. Rumi would recite the verses whenever and wherever they came to him – meditating, dancing, singing, walking, eating, by day or night - and Husam al-Din would record them.

Rumi is also known for the Sufi brotherhood he established with its distinctive whirling and circling dance, known as Sema and practiced by the Dervishes. The Sema ceremony represents the mystical journey of an individual towards union with the divine. Dressed in long white gowns, the dervishes dance for hours at a time. With arms held high, the right hand lifted upward to receive blessings and energy from heaven, the left hand turned downward to bestow these blessing on the earth, and the body spinning from right to left, the dervishes revolve around the heart and embraces all of creation with love.

Rumi passed away on the evening of December 17, 1273, a time traditionally known as his ‘wedding night,’ for he was now completely united with god. In the centuries following Rumi’s death, many hundreds of dervish lodges were established throughout the Ottoman domains in Turkey, Syria and Egypt, and several Ottoman Sultans were Sufis of the Mevlevi order. With the secularization of Turkey following World War I, the Mevlevi Brotherhood was seen as reactionary to the new republic and banned in 1925. While their properties were confiscated, members of the Mevlevi Brotherhood continued their religious practices in secret until their ecstatic dances were again allowed in 1953.

The former monastery of the whirling dervishes of Konya was converted into a museum in 1927. In its main room may be seen the tomb of Rumi covered with a large velvet cloth embroidered in gold. Adjacent to Rumi’s burial are those of his father and sons, and other Sufi sheikhs. The burials are capped with turbans, these being symbolic of the spiritual authority of Sufi teachers. Each year on December 17th a religious celebration at Rumi’s shrine is attended by tens of thousands. In the shrine there is a silver-plated step on which the followers of Rumi rub their foreheads and place kisses. This area is usually cordoned off but is opened for these devotional actions during the December pilgrimage festivities. Mevlana Rumi is generally known in the west by the name Rumi (which means Anatolian) and in Turkey he is referred to as Mevlana, meaning 'Our Master.'

Photo: Minaret, Shrine of Rumi, Konya

Burial cenotaph of Rumi, Konya

More from Sacred Sites about the Shrine of Rumi.

Written by  Martin Gray.

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