So Much Beauty – The Persian Verses of Rumi

Have we taken Allah out of Rumi’s poems?

New Age “translations of  jalaluddin Rumi’s works have become a type of ‘spiritual colonialism.’ We in the West have been bypassing, erasing, and occupying a spiritual landscape that has been lived and breathed and internalized by Muslims from Bosnia and Istanbul to Konya and Iran to Central and South Asia.” Extracting the spiritual from the religious context has deep reverberations. Islam is regularly diagnosed as a “cancer”  by people today and we are loathed to think that the  greatness of Sufi Poems are based on the Islamic faith.

In the 1800s, colonialist-minded translators found it difficult to reconcile Rumi’s poetry with their preconceptions of Islam as a “desert religion,” whose followers were forsaken with “unusual moral and legal codes.” In the twentieth century, prominent translators, such as R. A. Nicholson, A. J. Arberry, and Annemarie Schimmel, made limited headway into producing versions that stayed more true to the original Persian prose, but these translations have not been the most widely circulated among Western readers.

earlier translations of Rumi’s works – possibly

by R.A. Nicholson

That title is held by Coleman Barks, the American poet and interpreter responsible for re-introducing Rumi’s poetry for English-speaking audiences in recent decades. Barks, who does not speak Persian and is not trained in Islamic literature, has recast earlier translations of Rumi’s works into “fluid, casual American free verse,” according to Christain Science Monitor.

For his part, Coleman Barks sees religion as secondary to the essence of Rumi. “Religion is such a point of contention for the world,” he told me. “I got my truth and you got your truth—this is just absurd. We’re all in this together and I’m trying to open my heart, and Rumi’s poetry helps with that.” One might detect in this philosophy something of Rumi’s own approach to poetry: Rumi often amended texts from the Koran so that they would fit the lyrical rhyme and meter of the Persian verse. But while Rumi’s Persian readers would recognize the tactic, most American readers are unaware of the Islamic blueprint. Some have said, compare reading Rumi without the Koran to reading Milton without the Bible: even if Rumi was heterodox, it’s important to recognize that he was heterodox in a Muslim context—and that Islamic culture, centuries ago, had room for such heterodoxy. Rumi’s works are not just layered with religion; they represent the historical dynamism within Islamic scholarship.

Rumi used the Koran, Hadiths, and religion in an explorative way, often challenging conventional readings. One of Barks’s popular renditions goes like this: “Out beyond ideas of rightdoing and wrongdoing, there is a field. / I will meet you there.” The original version makes no mention of “rightdoing” or “wrongdoing.” The words Rumi wrote were iman (“religion”) and kufr (“infidelity”). Imagine, then, a Muslim scholar saying that the basis of faith lies not in religious code but in an elevated space of compassion and love. What we, and perhaps many Muslim clerics, might consider radical today is an interpretation that Rumi put forward more than seven hundred years ago.

Such readings were not entirely unique back then. Rumi’s works reflected a broader push and pull between religious spirituality and institutionalized faith—though with a wit that was unmatched. “Historically speaking, no text has shaped the imagination of Muslims—other than the Koran—as the poetry of Rumi and Hafez,” it is said. This is why Rumi’s voluminous writings, produced at a time when scribes had to copy works by hand, have survived.

“Language isn’t just a means of communication,” the writer and translator Sinan Antoon has said. “It’s a reservoir of memory, tradition, and heritage.” As conduits between two cultures, translators take on an inherently political project. They must figure out how to make, for instance, a thirteenth-century Persian poet comprehensible to a contemporary American audience. But they have a responsibility to remain true to the original work—an act that, in the case of Rumi, would help readers to recognize that a professor of Sharia could also write some of the world’s mostly widely read love poetry.

Jawid Mojaddedi is now in the midst of a years-long project to translate all six books of the “Masnavi.” Three of them” have been published; the fourth is due out this spring. His translations acknowledge the Islamic and Koranic texts in the original by using italics to denote whenever Rumi switches to Arabic. His books are also riddled with footnotes. Reading them requires some effort, and perhaps a desire to see beyond one’s preconceptions. That, after all, is the point of translation: to understand the foreign. As Keshavarz put it, translation is a reminder that “everything has a form, everything has culture and history. A Muslim can be like that, too.”

earlier translation

Have we hi-jacked Rumi and moulded him to our own understanding – Yes indeed,  is that a bad thing? No! Indeed no. We have not destroyed the original Rumi and who would want to? We have  expanded on his wonderful poetry and by so doing, opened him and his works to an international audience and an entirely new generation. I think we have done good! 

Excerpted from Rozina Ali’s recent article The Erasure of Islam from the Poetry of Rumi

Link to article

The Lake Under The Moon – Metta Teachings

Winter is behind us now. This brings a feeling of light, hope and openness. We can look out of the window at trees and see them forming leaves. Golden Daffodils adorn our gardens once more. The snowdrops and crocuses are also bountiful. This year more than most! I like to think it is not only a new beginning but  also a time to ponder on what lies ahead. Although in the quiet moments  of a Spring day, reflection on what has past is often more on our minds.  Dare we expect more from this new year than the last?  In the old Pali dialect, the language of the Buddha (upanijjhāna),  “reflection” has the self-same meaning that it does in English—it means to be like a mirror or the surface of a deep pond, to receive an impression and hold it without adding anything else. It also means to contemplate or consciously consider. To listen to the inner voice of reason.

Years ago, at Chuang Yen Monastery in Carmel, New York, Bhikkhu Bodhi spoke of this, and of the Buddha’s advice to his 7-year-old son Rahula. The Buddha told his son about the importance of honesty, telling young Rahula to practice reflection—to reflect on the inner and outer consequences before, during, and after doing something. Please consider trying this. The results are subtle but quite amazing. Consider how you feel before you perform an act of generosity, during, and after. Also consider how it feels to do something less than noble or not do something. Let’s say, not to eat or drink too much or be angry or stingy, to un-grasp the hand of lifelong habits. What is amazing is that this type of practice of reflecting on the quality and consequence of our lives is a way to expand time by opening and deepening and enriching the time we have to spare.

In meditation or just being  alone with our thoughts , we allow ourselves to reflect on something that has already happened. We can allow a memory or experience to arise within us, and like the surface of a deep pond, reflecting the moon without fighting it or fleeing from it or freezing it or adding anything at all. Remember that the ancient root of the word, “understand” means to stand under, to allow the truth of something to soak in. It also suggests holding and supporting, standing under our own experience, receiving it. Think of the lake under the moon.

Crocuses in the garden

Re-written from an article published in Parabola magazine.

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The Magic of Colour and Festival – Holi 2016 – More Sathya Sai Baba Memories


Rodney Harris ghats varanasi 25.3.2016
Rodney Harris
ghats varanasi 25.3.2016

The photos will grow if you click them. Thanks


Holi Fest. in Puttaparthi during 2003 when Baba was alive. The story is called The Red Rose.



photo source: P.S. Prattoy


Holi fest. Inzamam Azez Raad
Holi fest. Inzamam Azez


I had completely forgotten about the Holi Festival this year, perhaps due to concentrating on the chaotic aftermath of the Brussels attacks, that was played out time and time again on the news. To get away from the tragic news, I spent more time than usual in the garden. I had missed the postman when he called with a parcel from India. Later that evening I opened the surprise package to find a real gift of memorabilia from The Sathya Sai Book Shop in Prashanthi Nilayam. The precious gift was sent by a young friend living in the Ashram there. There was no note with the parcel, only the gift of books, book marks, trinkets and other wonderful  bits and pieces – all of which instantly brought back memories of those days with Sai. The parcel had arrived on The Holi Festival day and that in itself was a good omen.

My  friend who sent the parcel had told me the following story some time ago. I would like to share with you all. It is quite an amazing one. It’s a story that spans decades and led to my friend and his family going back to Prashanthi Nilayam to settle down and live for the rest of their lives.


The Story of The Father

“My father,” said my young friend:

“He had been a smart man and was well educated. He had also been a religious one too and had leanings towards a spiritual life. He didn’t want to settle down and take a wife. He wanted to take Sannyasa, to dedicate his life to seeking God. My father had heard about  Sathya Sai Baba from friends.  He was very curious about “The Baba.” He  later visited him several times in the 1960’s. He’d believed in him fully, and in his heart  felt that Sathya Sai was a very special guru.  My father then made a decision that he’d like to live there in Puttaparthi.  He wrote Sai a letter telling him of his plan to stay in Prashanthi Nilayam, the letter had been accepted. Sathya Sai  had responded to him with the word, “later.”

My father’s family wanted him to marry as is the custom with Indian families. In due course they found him a wife. He felt he had to fulfill his family duty and was married. He forgot all about going to live in Prashanthi Nilayam. When a chance presented them both with an opportunity to go and live in the USA, they did. The family thrived there and kept Sai Baba alive in their hearts by attending Sai bhajans and functions.”

My friend went on to say,  “We children grew up in the States and did very well at school and college. Then at some point I wanted to visit Sai Baba in India and I did just that. After only a few weeks with Baba, I knew I wanted to stay here for good. I didn’t want to return to the States. I had to explain this to my parents and they were, at first, profoundly upset. I then told them, they should also join me here in India. Eventually they did after many hardships in having to sell their business in the middle of the 2008 financial crash.”

My friend bought a flat large enough for them all to live together  right there in Puttaparthi. By that time, Sai Baba was quite ill and was to pass away in 2011. Still, the promise made to the father all those decades ago had been fulfilled.

There are many legends about the significance of Holi. Here’s one of them:


Lord Krishna Statue – Ashram Gardens, P.N.

Isaac's Krishna with flowers

An alternative account of the basis of the holiday is associated with a legend involving Lord Shiva, one of the major Hindu gods. Shiva is known for his meditative nature and his many hours spent in solitude and deep meditation. Madana, the God of love, decided to test his resolve and appeared to Shiva in the form of a beautiful nymph. But Shiva recognized Madana and became very angry. In a fit of rage he shot fire out of his third eye and reduced her to ashes. This is sometimes given as the basis of Holi’s bonfire.

The festival of Holi is also associated with the enduring love between Lord Krishna (an incarnation of Vishnu) and Radha, and Krishna in general. According to legend, the young Krishna complained to his mother Yashoda about why Radha was so fair and he so dark. Yashoda advised him to apply colour on Radha’s face and see how her complexion would change. Because of this associated with Krishna, Holi is extended over a longer period in Vrindavan and Mathura, two cities with which Krishna is closely affiliated.

Krishna’s followers everywhere find special meaning in the joyous festival, as general frivolity is considered to be in imitation of Krishna’s play with the gopis (wives and daughters of cowherds).


PankAj Dey pic.
PankAj Dey pic.


Habib Hossain pic
Habib Hossain pic



Mandir Photos

Sathya Sai Darshan
Sathya Sai Darshan


the darshan area P.N. Mandir
the darshan area
P.N. Mandir


flowers from the Mandir
flowers from
the Mandir


 Thanks to the Photography group Photography Is My Hobby for the glorious images.