It’s 10am. The birds are only just stretching their wings as I arrive through the front gate, pass my bag through security and enter the grounds of the museum. Immediately I feel a sense of peace and solitude, calm and serenity. I’m glad I’ve arrived early; I have the whole place to myself. I notice ‘Konya, the city of hearts’ and fall in love with the phrase, eager to have my photo with it.
I follow the path round to the left which opens up to the main courtyard and entrance, my heart audibly thumping away. There is soothing reed music playing, gently inviting you in. In the centre there is an area for ablution. I stand in the middle and absorb the atmosphere, the light, the sun and become lost in a different world, away from everything. The wording above the entrance cites ‘Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi’ in Arabic script, which warms my heart to be able to read. I take a deep sigh just like I did when I saw Medina and Mecca for the first time. The security guard is relaxed and glances at me as I walk in. It feels good to be away from the hustle and bustle of Istanbul’s busy streets and moody airport security staff. My thoughts: I feel mad, completely mad to be here so early. Who takes a morning flight for a day trip to see a shrine? I know what this means to me. It means that I have paid my respects and connected with the soul of another human being, who, through his closeness with The Creator, produced the most wonderful magic on the page. This is a pilgrimage for me. It is holy, pure and real.
It is eerily quiet and dimly lit inside. I approach the grave slowly, my shoes making the most embarrassing noise , that of heavy shopping bags intermittently being dragged across the floor (you can only walk in here with blue plastic covers on your feet). I reach Rumi’s grave and am confused and surprised to see that there are many other people buried here too so I work out from the plan that he’s buried next to his son. The tombs are all constructed with stone structures imitating those of Mevleviana hats, with turban – like moulds around each one. It almost brings them all to life, giving a surreal sense of their eternal physical presence. My thoughts: at this moment my mind is completely blank and unable to process that I’m actually here. I take a few moments to compute it all and then say my prayers. Now I begin to wonder about his life and his companions – how did they live, what was their daily routine and ponder on just how lucky and blessed these souls are to receive hundreds and thousands of prayers by so many people near and far, century after century. I feel overwhelmed and immensely lucky and blessed to be here, as a poet but more as a human being. I say all my prayers for the deceased and for all of poethood to succeed in bringing about positive change to our world.
I walk over to the encased collection of cloak and caps that belonged to Rumi and the books by him, Hafiz and several old copies of the Quran. Something keeps pulling me back to the graves so I visit them again, saying prayers quietly but fervently under my breath. No amount of time I spend here seems to be enough. The more I have the more I crave.
After some quiet time alone in here I walk out back into the courtyard to see the displays in the museum which was once living quarters. I learn more about the practises of the Mevlevi order, how it came about and how it ended. There are accessories, praying beads and details of the daily lifestyle here, complete with very real looking mannequins frozen in time, either in the kitchen, chilling, dining, learning to whirl or praying.
There is one particularly insightful detail about building internal resilience which I notice – the students spent many days in isolation and as soon as they felt they were unable to cope they would leave. If they failed any of the stages of their spiritual training their shoes would be turned to face the other way, indicating their unsuitability. The Mevlevis also kept from their very modest income a minimum amount of money for food and clothes, giving away the rest to the poor families in the surrounding areas. A sudden sadness overtakes me when I learn about the ban on Sufism, making me reflect on power, politics and pride. The practice may be banned but the Sufi spirit will still live. I fold away these words deep into my chest, check the time and suddenly realise I’ve spent more than two hours here already.
I look across at the wall protecting this museum, beyond which is my life, chaos and in less than four hours a flight waiting to take this pilgrim back ‘home’.