Even after 800 years, great mystic and poet, Rumi, makes big news, writes Kul Bhushan who will conduct a Rumi event in New Delhi on July 17th and 18th 2016.
Born 800 years ago, the great mystic and poet, Rumi has made big news recently.
First, Hollywood superstar Leonardo DiCaprio was announced to be playing the 13th century Muslim poet Jalal-ud-Din Mohammad Rumi in an upcoming movie. Thousands protested on Twitter and social media saying this was ‘whitewashing’ the great Sufi master. Producer Stephen Brown said DiCaprio was their first choice, while Robert Downey Jr was being considered for the role of Rumi’s Sufi master, Shams of Tabraiz.
The announcement generated a lot of controversy. The producer was criticised for trying to ‘gloss over’ an eastern mystic who was born in Afghanistan and lived and composed poetry in what was then the Persian Empire. Basically, the critics argue that Muslim actors were employed to play terrorists in Hollywood movies but white actors played mystics. For example, Sir Laurence Olivier played the Sudanese Sufi mystic leader, Mahadi, in the blockbuster movie ‘Khartoum’ in 1966.
Thousands of people have protested by signing a petition arguing that this is ‘Hollywood whitewashing’ for not giving Muslim actors positive roles and typecasting them only as negative. Now the project is in limbo.
Second, the global cultural organization, UNESCO, invited Turkey and Iran to submit Rumi’s famous poem, Masnavi-ye Manavi, for its ‘Memory of the World Register’ and ran into trouble as both countries claimed him as their own. But an agreement was reached so that both could jointly claim him as Rumi lived in both these countries. More trouble broke out as Afghanistan claimed him as its own because he was born in Balkhi, Afghanistan. But the reality is that 800 years ago these countries did not exist as separate nations as all of them and many more were part of the great Persian Empire.
The poet and philosopher was born in Balkh in Afghanistan and known as the Son of Balkh. For Afghans, who learn his poems in primary school, Rumi is ‘Maulana Jalaludin Balkh’, or ‘Maulana’ (our master), or simply ‘Balkhi’. Most researchers agree he was born in Balkh, Afghanistan in 1207 — though this too has been a subject of debate. A few argue he was born just across the border, in what is modern day Tajikistan, in a region also known as Balkh. Today, the Afghan town of Balkh is a small provincial settlement. All three claim Rumi to be theirs: Iran has the direct link and claims the total legacy of ancient Persia claims Rumi; Turkey claims Rumi as he lived on Konya in Turkey until his death and Afghanistan claims him as he was born on its soil. Afghanistan offered to register Rumi as joint heritage with Turkey, but made no mention of Iran. But in 2007, Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey came together with UNESCO to mark the 800th anniversary of his birth. The dispute is still to be resolved.
Why is Rumi so famous?
Because of his poems that appeal to all ages and religions; because he talks about love and life and God in such simple terms that touch the heart; because he sang and danced and devised whirling. In 2014, he was the best-selling poet in the US. He has 1.8 million followers on Facebook. In 2007, he was described as the “most popular poet in America.”
Rumi’s love poems have been performed by Hollywood celebrities such as Madonna, Tilda Swinton, Goldie Hawn, Demi Moore and Philip Glass. Recordings of Rumi poems have made it to the USA’s Billboard’s Top 20 list.
Come, come, come again come, says Rumi.
Come, discover Rumi, his poetry, songs, whirling and dance, during an event at Zorba The Buddha in New Delhi on July 17 and 18, 2016 – to be conducted by Swami Anand Kul Bhushan.
Contact Tel 093120 80941; Zorba The Buddha, 7, Tropical Drive, Mehrauli-Gurgaon Rd, Ghitorni, New Delhi, Delhi 110030