“When we are dead, seek not our tomb in the earth, but find it
in the hearts of men,” read the epithet at the tomb of Mevlana
Jalaluddin Rumi situated in Konya, Türkiye. True to the words of
the greatest mystic maverick, the people all over the world have
been hunting him in the hospices of their hearts. Nowhere he has
found as permanent a place as in India — the land of sages and
sufis. In fact sufis like Rumi and Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi are stars
on the firmament of India-Türkiye relations. Since ancient history
to the modern age, the bridge of sufism has kept both great
countries of the world together. As Türkiye is calibrating its
policy towards India as part of its Asia Anew doctrine, India has
too reciprocated emphasising on sufi or spiritual links between the
The exchange of sufi thoughts between India and Türkiye may be
traced to the Delhi Sultanate period in 13th century. However, when
the Mughals ruled India, the sufi lodges in Ottoman cities became
regular hosts of their Indian guests. Not only sufis, even
diplomats travelled both the countries and carried scholarly texts
back to their countries to translate and disseminate them among the
nobles and the masses.
During this culturally and politically vibrant time, Hindu
scriptures became a point of scholarly debate among Muslim Sufis.
Several important scriptures and popular works were translated from
Sanskrit to Persian and Arabic – the two languages of power and
scholarship at that time. Most notable work that was translated was
Hindu epic poem Mahabharata. The task was commissioned by none
other than Emperor Akbar. His learned courtier Naqib Khan rendered
the epochal work into Persian and named it Razmnama (Book of War).
Other translations that followed were Rajatarangini and Ramayana.
Similarly, poems and quatrains of classical sufis like Rumi were
translated into Sanskrit, and later Hindi.
One of the modern illustrious examples of Rumi’s poetry being
translated into Hindi is Nishabd Nupur, a translation of 100
ghazals of Rumi by a Delhi University professor, Dr Balram
In fact one of the longest poems of Rumi, The Faithful are One
Soul, is believed to have been inspired by Upanishads as it is very
close to the meaning contained in the great Sanskrit texts.
Sufi-Vedantic interactions gave rise to the concept of Waḥdat
al-Wujud (Unity of Being). It has since been sine qua non of sufi
traditions in South Asia.
Sufi takiya (lodge)
When these South Asian sufis travelled to the Ottoman Empire,
they established their own schools there and these schools or sufi
centres, called tekke or takiya, have been popular till date. They
were prominently established in modern Syria’s Aleppo, modern
Iraq’s Baghdad, modern Türkiye’s Istanbul and Edirne, even modern
Bulgaria’s Sofia and modern Kosovo’s Prizren.
One of the most well-known sufi takiya in Istanbul is the Horhor
Tekke in Üsküdar, which has recently been renovated. According to
archival documents, some Mughal and other Indian diplomatic
missions acknowledged the importance of the Horhor Tekke. Imam
Muhammed Serdar was a member of the diplomatic delegation of Tipu
Sultan, ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore based in South India in the
18th century, and had stayed at this tekke where he was buried
after he died.
Sheikh Sirhindi or Imam Rabbani
In Türkiye, the most famous and omnipresent Indian mystic figure
is 16th-century Indian Sufi, Ahmad al-Faruq al-Sirhindi, also known
as Imam Rabbani. The collection of his letters known as Mektubat-e
Rabbani enjoys the status of a sufi magnum opus and this book is
found in every library and sufi takiya in Türkiye.
Little details are available about Sheikh Sirhindi’s time period
spent in Türkiye or his direct interactions with Turkish
travellers, the papers from the Ottoman archives compile together
stray strands from 19th century onwards.
“Baghdad-based famous Sufi Khalid-i Shahrazuri met the Indian
traveller and spiritual seeker Mirza Rahimullah Azimabadi, who told
him about Imam Rabbani and his disciple Abdullah Dihlevi.
Shahrazuri took no time in visiting Delhi in 1809 and attended the
circles of Imam Rabbani’s disciples, especially of Dihlevi. He
spent more than a year learning the teachings of Imam Rabbani.
Shahrazuri returned to Baghdad in 1813. As per the Ottoman
archives, Dihlevi also sent his disciples to Anatolia to establish
takiyas,” says one paper. Similarly, there are anecdotes about
Sirhindi’s later day family members like Halil Efendi and Sheikh
Masumi were granted state hospitality by Ottoman sultans.
Rumi, the Indian ‘connection’
Like his poetry and philosophy, Jalaluddin Rumi has a mystic
connection with India. Shamsuddin of Tabrez to whom he had
dedicated his collection of Ghazaliat as Diwan e Shams e Tabrezi is
believed to have Indian ancestry. According to Orientalist H.A.
Rose, he was probably of Indian origin who identified himself with
Shamsuddin Tapriz of Multan, a great contemporary saint and who got
the sobriquet of Tap-riz or ‘heat-pouring’ because he brought the
sun closer to that spot. Dr Rasih Guven too supports this view and
states that his father Khawand Alauddin was an Indian and a new
convert to Islam and his name was Govind, a Sanskrit word.
Although Rumi’s works are literary works of a Muslim jurist and
mystic, written in the Persian language, they crossed the barriers
of language, religion and culture to reach different peoples
belonging to different civilisations and cultures.
The first printing of Masnavi (the Persian version) was in Cairo
in 1835. In India, however, Rumi reached much earlier. Hazrat
Nizamuddin Auliya, the great guide of the Chishti sufi order, wrote
a commentary on Rumi’s Masnavi in the 14th century.
Rumi’s greatest influence on Indian culture in the modern era
has been poet and philosopher Muhammad Iqbal, who considered Rumi
his spiritual guide and “the prince of the caravan of love.”
The poets and saints of Bhakti tradition like their sufi
counterparts too always have been attracted to the message of Rumi
and even today Rumi continues to inspire many including
neo-religious movements like Radhaswami. His Persian verses when
sung with Dhrupad have manifested into a unique confluence of words
Dr Shukla puts it in the introduction of Nishabd Nupur, “Rumi
advocates oneness of existence which leads to the cessation of
hatred, and hence makes love inevitable.” This message has never
been as relevant as it is today. It will not only bind countries
together, it will weave people into one entity, one wajud.
(The Author is director of Indo Islamic Heritage
Follow us on Twitter @AzerNewsAz