"A secret turning in us makes the universe turn
Head unaware of feet
And feet head
They keep turning."
Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet lived eons ago. Yet, whenever I read his poetry, it is as if I can hear his melodious, magical voice unlocking the secrets of the universe. The second in my series of Mystic, theo-phillic poets, is a painting inspired by Mawlana Jala-ad-Din Muhammad Rumi. Born on the eastern borders of the Persian empire ( present day Afghanistan), Rumi attained fame in Turkey. In fact, Turkish art and culture is heavily influenced by Rumi's poetry. During his lifetime, Rumi composed over 70,000 verses of poetry and is now one of the most celebrated poets of the Islamic world. His poetry - spiritual and universalistic -transcends beyond the borders of geography, religion, and time. Infused with love, his poetry encapsulates the yearning and the desire for man's union with the divine. Many of Rumi's intimate verses are philosophical, passionate , and fiery; representing the dialogue of the lover and the beloved.
My painting "All that you seek is within"- is named after one of Rumi's verses. The trance-static movements of the dervishes in Hodja Pasha still haunts me in the form of a beautiful memory. My idea for this painting was to capture the surrealistic experience of a Dervish performing the 'sema'. Often associated with Sufism and the Mevlevi Order of Whirling Dervishes, Rumi's work is unique in it's rich use of imagery and symbolism. No other poet has used symbols and metaphors of love and euphoria as resplendently as Rumi. The most mundane of creatures and occurrences attain clarity and beauty in the simplicity of Rumi's words. It is almost as if they reveal a little secret of the universe. " Swirling Dervish- All that you seek is within" is an attempt at assimilating universalism and symbolism of Rumi's poetry on canvas.
.Rumi's poetic world is a universal world. A world of collective conscious and complete beings beyond the trivialities of religion and geography. Today, Rumi's work is read and appreciated by Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Jews, and Buddhists alike. The peace symbol in the painting emblematizes the universality of Rumi's work. It represents the hope that mankind can move beyond the boundaries of caste, race, and religion- towards a future of love, peace, and humanity.
Thee green arches represents the dancer's sub-conscious mind immersed in an ode to nature, life, and God. The falling lava epitomizes the Dervish's consummate religious ecstasy. The Dervish burns in the desire to attain the divine love, swirling in a trance, as he is immersed in the vast depths of the ocean of God. Riding the tide of devotion, the soul of the Dervish is ready to merge in the ocean of the absolute being just as a drop of water in the sea. The ocean in the painting represents the Dervish's passage into the transcendent world. An absolute abandonment leading to unconditional spiritual dividend.
The tulips in the ocean embody its divine essence. Just as lotus is revered in Hinduism, the tulip is a revered flower in Islam and is a symbol of paradise. The most prized flower of the Ottomans, the tulip adorns the walls of many Turkish mosques. The popularity of the tulip in Islalmic art has a lot to do with its shape - the word Allah (God) written in Arabic script resembles the tulip shape. The Arabic letters making the word tulip ('Lale' in Arabic) are the same as those that make the name of Allah, making it a very special flower with an exalted status in Islamic art and culture . Tulips also represent perfect love, thanks to the Persian legend of Shirin and Farhad. According to this legend, Farhad, a brave stonecutter, killed himself when a false message of his beloved princess Shirin's demise was delivered to him. He died on the site of a canal that he was digging through the mountains to win her hand. It is said that with his drop of blood rose tulips, reminding the world of his sacrifice. Since then, tulips epitomize perfect love. In my painting, the foam tulips represent the Dervish's perfect love for God.
Featured in the painting is a night sky with the stars and the crescent moon. The crescent moon and star are on the flags of many Islamic nations; on the top of mosques in Turkey; and even on the shields of Mughal Emperors Akbar, Shah Jahan, and Aurangzeb. According to some, the crescent moon and star is synonymous with Ramadan. However, it is interesting to note the usage of the crescent moon and the stars predates Islam back to the Sumerian era.The crescent moon was associated with the Moon God Sin (God of wisdom) and the star with Ishtar (Goddess of love). These symbols were popular in both the Palestine region and the Aegean region. With the rise of the Ottoman empire, the symbols of moon and the stars were absorbed and recast as symbols of the new faith of Islam. In Rumi's poetry, the Moon often represents the 'Shama' - the radiance of beauty. In my painting, the crescent moon and the stars represent the inspiration of the Dervish, the vision that seeks him from beyond the doorways of his imagination. The moon and the stars embody the divine, dispensing wisdom, love, and spiritual guidance as the Dervish seeks them with his right hand facing the sky.
Symbols aside, the main concept behind the painting is that the entire cosmos- the elements of ether, sky, fire, water and earth all culminate into the consciousness of the swirling Dervish. The idea is that God is everywhere. God is in the ocean,in the air, and in the fire. God is within the swirling Dervish. God is within the one who seeks. Similarly, the fire, the passion, the love, and the wisdom are within the Dervish. All that he seeks is within him.
Soordas- a name that elicits pictures of a singing blind bard in the mind of almost every Indian. It is a name that has been immortalized in the form of poetry and numerous cinematic references. Soordas- which literally translates to 'servant of melody', the great devotee poet of Krishna is credited with some of the most engrossing poems on Krishna's life. The vivid portrayal of Krishna in Soordas's poems is perhaps only rivaled by Tulsidas's portrayal of Rama. However, it is fascinating how a bard with congenital blindness was able to portray Krishna's childhood in such colorful details...almost as if he saw him growing up!
Neglected and abused because of his blindness, Soordas supposedly left his home as a child and met the Hindu philosopher- Sri Vallabhcharya on the banks of Yamuna. This chance meeting resulted in a lifetime of spirituality and immersion in devotional poetry. Soordas showered his creativity, devotion and love to Krishna - the eternal lover. Soordas saw Radha-Krishna's ethereal love and irresistible attractions in the same way as the relationship between the soul and God. During his lifetime, Soordas wrote hundreds and thousands of poems in the Indian vernacular language of Braj. Contemplative devotion being a key characteristic of Soordas's poetry and a reflection of an era in Indian history when the notion of spiritual empowerment was at it's peak.
Soordas is the first of my series on 'Theophilia & Poets'- a series by which I aim to move beyond the realms of religion to capture the essence of some of the well known theophillic poets from Asian history. Theophilia was often an instrument which ushered in a number of revolutions, movements and even established new sects worldwide. Art, culture and religion have always been closely linked. This series is my attempt at further exploring the universality of the message of these theophillic poets across ages. Soordas is special. Soordas's theophillic poems- preaching a spontaneous, selfless motiveless love for Krishna not only paved way for elevation of the previously crude language Braj but also heralded a movement of spiritual awakening in India. This is my interpretation of Soordas in history.
INSPIRATIONS- Inside Medusa's Lair
My latest art work is an acrylic texture painting of the Medusa's lair in Turkey. The lair is located inside one of Istanbul's hundreds of underground cisterns. One of these, the Basilica Cistern or 'the sunken palace' was built in the 6th century but what makes it rather peculiar are the two pillars with Medusa's head. It is still a mystery how these pillars got inside the Cistern. According to one legend, they were brought here from a Roman temple. These two column pillars have Medusa's head at their base- one is tilted sideways and another upside down. According to some, they were kept in such a way to negate the power of Medusa's gaze. Others believe, that it was probably inverted as it symbolized a pagan past.
Medusa was one of the three Gorgon sisters who had snakes for hair and a mesmerizing gaze that would turn any man who looked in them, into stone. According to another legend, Medusa was a beautiful sea nymph who was seduced by Poseidon inside the temple of Athena. Enraged, Athena then cursed Medusa that whoever gazed in her enchanting eyes would turn into stone. Later, Medusa was beheaded by her lover Perseus who used her head to win many a war. Apparently, her stone-turning gaze survived her death. Over time, Medusa's myth developed strong apotropaic annotations and her head-motif came to be used as a talisman to deflect misfortune and bad luck. Throughout ancient Greece and Anatolia ( ancient Turkey), her head was painted or built on buildings to deflect negative energy. Medusa's myth still has a strong hold in the Mediterranean region. Blue and white 'evil eye' representing Medusa's eye are still sold as a talisman by the hoardes. This painting is just an attempt at capturing the mystery of Medusa's head swimming in the tranquil scarlet waters of the sunken palace...
Red is my favourite colour. Tulips, my favourite flowers. People who know me will tell you that I am full of life. Hence, Vivacious Red Tulip seemed an appropriate title for my blog. Join me as I muse over daily ramblings and share my very opinionated thoughts over all things random..