Rumi & Shams: Bonded in words and beyond


By Akash Shukla

The minute I heard my first love story,
I started looking for you, not knowing
how blind that was.
Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere.
They’re in each other all along.

Also known as Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī, Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī (Persian: جلال‌الدین محمد رومی‎‎) is popularly celebrated by the world as Rumi. A 13th-century Persian poet, Islamic scholar, theologian, jurist, and Sufi mystic, Rumi’s influence scales national borders and jumps ethnic divisions. TajiksTurksGreeks, IraniansPashtuns, other Central Asian Muslims, and the Muslims of South Asia have hugely appreciated his spiritual legacy for seven centuries.

An Iranian Muslim Shams-i-Tabrīzī (Persian: شمس تبریزی‎‎) is celebrated as the spiritual instructor of Rūmī. He is remembered with great reverence in Rumi’s poetic collection in particular Diwan-i Shams-i-Tabrīzī (The Works of Shams of Tabriz).

The tale and tradition unfolds that Shams taught Rumi in seclusion in Konya for 40 days before fleeing for Damascus.

The tomb of Shams-i-Tabrīzī was recently nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Described as the ‘most popular poet’ and the ‘best selling poet’ in the United States, Rumi’s poems have been translated into several languages of the world and transposed into various formats.

Rumi & Shams: The tale untold

Meeting of Rumi and Shams was one of the grandest events that the planet ever saw. With their bond in deep friendship, categories of teacher and student, lover and beloved, master and disciple stood dissolved.

Rumi was born in the remote town of Balkh and this place is now in Afghanistan. He spent most of his life in Konya, Turkey. In the 13th century, it was a meeting point for many cultures at the Western edge of Silk Road. This was a place where Muslim, Christian, Hindu, and even Buddhist travelers mingled.

At the age of 37, Rumi became an accomplished doctor of theology. He was a venusian lover of the beautiful and the good, an artist and a scholar.

There was a wandering dervish monk, rough-hewn and sinewy. Known as a street bodhisattva who mingled with laborers and camel drivers, people called him Shams.

He attracted glamour in all spontaneity but when he did, he always slipped out of side doors. Many-a-time he left town. Shams never wanted followers or fame. Somewhere, he wanted to find one person vast enough in spirit to be his companion and then in the trail of his thought, he met Rumi in Konya.

One fine day, Rumi was riding a donkey through the marketplace. While he was besieged by many disciples, a stranger with drilling eyes stepped from a doorway and seized his bridle and challenged him: “Who is greater, Muhammad or Bestami?”

Given to the ecstatic communion with God, legendary Sufi master Bestami who cried out with mystic candor that he and the Supreme were one; while Muhammad was the founder of their tradition, the anointed one, but his greatness was lodged in his stature as messenger of God.

So, who was greater?

Rumi gave the approved answer, “Muhammad.”

On Shams’ counterview, Rumi reached on the verge to reply but he realized that this was no seminary debate about the mysteries.

In a not-so-impressive and nothing out-of-the-ordinary marketplace in south central Anatolia, he came face to face with the mystery. A doorway to eternity opened and in one pure outrageous act of faith, Rumi drove through. In an instant of mystical annihilation, fire met fire, ocean met ocean, and Rumi fell into pure being.

Rumi said, “What I once thought of as God I met today as a human being.”

The material world records and remembers this incident as Rumi tumbling from his saddle after the question and faints.

Lying on the ground when Rumi managed to regain consciousness, he answered, “Bestami took one swallow of knowledge and thought that was all. But for Muhammad, the majesty was continually unfolding.”

Shams not only gauged but also felt the depth of the answer and this was the one he had sought.

The two began a series of months-long retreats into solitude where they entered into a deep communion of words and silences called sohbet. Who can say what transpired there? We can only guess that Rumi endured the refining fires of a deep spiritual purification.

But some of Rumi’s pupils witnessed their beloved teacher being strayed by ‘madman Shams’; their intrigue forced Shams to leave Konya.

Shams went into exile several times, but he always returned at Rumi’s behest. But on December 5, 1247, fanatics killed Shams and the body went missing. Rumi wandered for months in great pain and one day in Damascus, he realized there was no longer a need to search; Shams was ‘with him’ and ‘in him’.

With this final illumination, he began singing the spontaneous poetry of such beauty and perfection that is now loved and revered across the world as revelation.

When Rumi died, he was mourned by Christians, Jews, Muslims and Buddhists. While he underwent his spiritual entourage within the Islamic Sufism pattern, his whole life witnessed unrestricted universality of Heart.

I want to see you.
Know your voice.
Recognize you when you
first come ’round the corner.
Sense your scent when I come
into a room you’ve just left.
Know the lift of your heel,
the glide of your foot.
Become familiar with the way
you purse your lips
then let them part,
just the slightest bit,
when I lean in to your space
and kiss you.
I want to know the joy
of how you whisper

All of this poetry can be heard as Rumi’s continuing conversation, an exploration of what it is to be together in God and with God.
So now listen with what Rumi called ‘The ear in the center of the chest’.