It may seem well nigh impossible to ‘define’ Sufism, but it is easy to taste, feel, and experience, writes artist Pratiksha Apurv.
The Whirling Dervish, Acrylic and Oil on Canvas, 54″ x 60″, 2015
Most people agree that a sufi is essentially a lover of God and that Sufism is one of the ultimate paths available for the seeker to dissolve himself into the very essence of the Divine. They also agree that Sufism essentially has very little to do with a particular religion or sect and, in fact, in its very core it also ensures that other religions remain vibrant. This is the beauty of Sufism, because anyone who falls in love with God is a sufi. He could be Hindu, Christian, Sikh or Muslim. A sufi could be Krishna or Jesus or Nanak. The love affair is not confined within the boundaries of religion. Nomenclatures in these religions could be different but all of them talk about the same love affairs, and ultimately, their relationship with the Divine.
When we use the words ‘sufi’ or ‘Sufism’, the images of dervishes performing their whirling dance come to mind. Here too, various orders follow different types of techniques, but essentially, all of them lead to the same divine love. And, when you get a little closer to this nectar called love, one starts to realise that it is impossible to define Sufism, but it’s easy to taste, feel, and experience it. One will not be able to know its true meaning unless one becomes a sufi — one who is thirsting to melt into Divinity.
I have tried to show this state of deep meditation or oneness with the Divine through my painting titled The Whirling Dervish, depicting the Tanoura dance that is generally performed by men wearing long colourful attire. A dervish whirling around his own axis, the centre, is not just dancing but charting a journey to let go and completely surrender to the Divine. The whirling creates an energy wherein the dervish melts into existence and becomes one with God. This cannot be explained through knowledge but only experienced.
As the Persian Sufi mystic Jalaluddin Rumi said: “Dance when you’re broken open. Dance if you’ve torn the bandage off. Dance in your blood. Dance when you’re perfectly free.” This dance or state of deep unity or meditation emphasises that everything in the universe is within you and the search should be inside and not outside. That is why Sufism denies knowledge, arguing that knowing is possible but knowledge is impossible. Sufi masters have said it beautifully: Knowing is an experience but knowledge is a theory. This whirling or as some would call it ‘the ritual of love’ is actually the path of knowing. ‘Whirling’ is a state of khushu or humility when everything else disappears and humbleness descends in the heart — that very moment is enough to melt you into the Divine. Rumi says: ‘We come spinning out of nothingness, scattering stars like dust. The stars form a circle and in the centre we dance.’
There is a story about an old lady who, in search of truth, abandoned her birth religion and joined another belief. Initially, she felt different but as time passed she had this feeling of emptiness. So, she joined another belief hoping to find the answer. This search continued for some time and soon she realised that while worldly knowledge was gained, she did not find inner peace.One day, she went to meet Sufi Master Imam Jafar Sadik. The fakir listened attentively as she poured her heart out to him. He later asked her to go home and wait for his message. An hour later, she received a glass bottle with a note from the Master through his disciple. The bottle had sand in three different colours — red, white and black.The note carrying the message of the Master read: Remove the paper from the bottle that is keeping the coloured sand separate. She did that exactly. As soon as she pulled out the piece of paper, the sand mixed with each other and turned grey.
‘Sufism’ can also be tasted in the Bhakti movement that started in the 15th century. Kabir, one of the Masters of the Bhakti movement and a sufi has described in his Beejak’s 43rd Shabad: “Pandit Mithya Karo Vichara, Na han Srishti na Sirjanhara.Thool sthool, Pawan Nahi Pawak, Ravi Shashi Dharni na neera. Jyoti Swarupi Kaal Na Unhawa, Vachan na ahi Sharira — Pandit you got it wrong. There’s no creation or creator there, no thick or fine, no wind or fire, no sun, moon, earth or water, no radiant form, no time there, no word, no flesh, no faith.”
Even much before the Bhakti movement, Mundka Upanishad indicated that the way towards God was through dissolving oneself, rather than pursuing knowledge. One of its verses says: “Naaymatma Pravachanen Labhyo, Naa Meghya Naa Bahuna Shruten. Yamevaishe Vrinute ten, Labhyasthaishya Aatma Vivarnate Swam — This Atman, the ultimate truth, cannot be attained by study of the vedas, intelligence, or by hearing sacred scriptures. He who chooses Atman, by him alone is Atman attained. Atman reveals its own real form to the seeker.”
Osho says, anyone who has come to know God, is a sufi…. Sufism is a special kind of magic, a rare kind of magic. It can be transferred only from one person to another and not from a book or through scriptures. He further says that you can read all literature that exists on Sufism and you will still be lost in a maze of words, unless you find a Master. Unless you fall in love with a Master, you will not have the taste of the Divine.
More paintings by Pratiksha in our Art Gallery
Pratiksha: Expressing the Inexpressible
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