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Personal Photography Society Travels

[2914] Madness in a holy shrine

I have an English translation of the Masnavi at home. It has been on my shelves for years but I have never read it full, much like my collection of Kafka’s, or writings of Robert Nozick and Bertrand Russell, or even the Koran.

The Masnavi feels like a reference material. You do not read it whole. You open the pages once in a while and read a verse or two or three now and then.

There is criticism that most established English translations have stripped the Islamic religion out of Rumi’s poems. That have made the Masnavi secular for a wider audience outside of the Muslim world; Rumi has been removed from his Islamic context. Meanings have been corrupted from its original intention.

My miseducation had misdirected my expectations when I was in Konya visiting Rumi’s tomb. He died here in the 13th century when this part of Turkey was ruled by the Seljuks. The tomb is officially called the Mevlana Museum. Rumi, or in full Jalal Ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, was a teacher, a master, a Maulana. But the tomb was no museum. It is a major shrine. And the population of Konya, I was told, is deeply religious but in a different way.

Growing up as a Muslim in Malaysia with religious education pummeled into me early on with questions discouraged, I had come to think of shrines as something absolutely unorthodox, bordering cultish. The religious authority in Malaysia strongly discourages worshipping at shrines fearing it could lead to effective apostasy at worst. In Keramat in Kuala Lumpur, a Muslim shrine was removed by the government to prevent the Malays from visiting it. By a long shot, Malaysia is not Saudi Arabia. But some aspects of it could be felt.

Rumi's tomb

And so it was a sight to see people coming in droves into the large shrine praying in front of Rumi’s large heavy sarcophagus.

The stone coffin, itself under a massive tall green dome, is lifted off the ground by a set of four legs. I, a person whose understanding of Rumi had been divorced from the Islamic context and understanding of Islam must have had approached puritanism from the perspective of these devotees in this shrine, was dumbstruck by the religiousness surrounding me. I did not expect to be in a pilgrimage, but I found myself stuck inside one.

It was all around me. Old women in black dressing covered from head to toes without a veil prayed toward Rumi’s remains while tearing up. There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger… and Rumi the teacher. It was as if Rumi was a prophet himself. The Masnawi after all was nicknamed the Persian Koran. I was unprepared for this. Their devotion was true.

Many were determined to make their way to the front, pushing those in the way out harshly. A majority of them were Turks, but I spotted some Iranians too and other foreigners by listening to the language they spoke. They must have seen me as a nuisance, a foreigner standing in the way, not praying as they did.

As I observed, I came to disapprove what I saw. It was not so much due to my religious education, but rather due to the situation at hand. I can understand how holy the experience could be, but in the believers’ eagerness to reach for the scared, they pushed and shoved others in their way with a greediness and disrespect that should have no place in a holy place. The madness was understandable but disagreeable. It felt too worldly to deserve a place in this tomb beside the maulana.

I frowned each time I was pushed aside.

I felt angry but relented. If I needed to be patient, perhaps here inside the tomb was a place to practice patience. After all, I came with a secularized understanding of Rumi. I had no rights to judge them.

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Personal Photography Travels

[2900] Shoot it, or not

The digital life is oppressive sometimes. Because we are now able to record every single second of our life, some of us are in constant fear leaving any moment left unrecorded. So much so that we have become slaves to our digital memory, and failed to enjoy the moment itself without any assistance lfrom our digital devices. I am hardly different, though I would like to think I try to fight off such urge.

To get to Antalya on the Turkish Mediterranean from Konya deep within Turkey, the bus I was on needed to pass through the Taurus Mountains. I have read about the Taurus Mountains as a child, just as I have read about the Urals, the Himalayas, the Andes and the Rockies. To be there in the Turkish plains seeing the mountain range with my own eyes was somewhat unbelievable upon reflection. The ten years old me whom had read about it in encyclopedia and on maps would have never imagined he would one day see it for himself.

Konya, as I learned latter, Iconium during the Roman days, is located at the foot of grand mountain ranges, with mountain peaks of names I do not know off without further research. As I spotted the various peaks from my hotel window, I told myself I wanted to know their names. I quickly abandoned the exercise for fear I would be prioritizing the wrong thing: I am here in Konya, and I should be experiencing it rather than researching about mountains on the horizon. It did not help that Wikipedia was banned in Turkey.

Looking north from my bed, I remember three peaks the most. The highest had its top covered with snow. It was December after all. The other two peaks were much shorter but located nearer to me, with cup-like shape turned upside down. All were barren, with earth exposed with rocks littered its cliff, at least as far as I could tell peeking through my camera’s viewfinder equipped with a small zoom lens, pretending I was some kind of explorers, readying for the mountains.

Looking north of Konya

Konya felt like it was on the edge of a desert, with a more mundane landscape compared to Goreme in Cappadocia with its deeply Christian history that reaches to more than 900 years back into history.

But the view from Konya was nothing compared to the view from the road towards Antalya to the southwest.

The journey began tamely. The road ran on flat land southward before swerving eastward into the Taurus. Taurus means the Bull in Latin, and the Bull is the symbol of the Storm God. The mountains were named so because the ancients believed the rains brought by the Storm God created the Tigris and the Euphrates, which originated from these mountains.

The approach towards the Taurus from Konya was not as dramatic as the one I experienced in Laos. Back there, the flat land would suddenly be confronted by the mighty Himalayas. Back in Vang Vieng in Laos, a wall of one, two, three or even four kilometer high would stare you down, enquiring the puny you of your rights to be there. Here at the foot of the Taurus, the ascend was gradual and it betrayed little early on. Maybe because, I was already within the mountain complex, except I did not realize it.

So I had my camera switched off, and kept tightly inside my bag as the bus began to work its way to the Mediterranean. As the bus climbed up gently, my view was kept in check by the hills on my sides. Except quite quickly, those hills on my sides soared up into the sky, suddenly transforming into mountains with snow caps. Shallow valleys became chasms, slopes became cliffs, and daytime turned dark as the mountains blocked the sun.

I knew my camera was in my bag. I wanted to take them out. I really did. But in my mind, if I did so, I would miss something with my own eyes. And each corner revealed even more dramatic view, and even higher mountains out in the distance, and they would vanish within seconds as the trees and the rocks and the hills moved around, blocking my lines of sight. I dared not spend a minute taking my camera out. I could not take it.

And… I took my camera out and began shooting from my seat.

The pictures turned out crappy. But the memory in my head turned out just fine. Maybe for the next 30 or 50 years. We will see.

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Photography Travels

[2832] Some snacks before a long ride!

Trains! Trains! Trains!

I love trains.

Before a long trip, I will make sure to buy some snacks to munch on. And I did in Sri Lanka.

Snack to buy at Colombo Fort

This was about a month ago at Colombo Fort Station.

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Photography Travels

[2830] Let’s go crazy

I tried to do some night photography in one of Galle’s narrow streets.

Light trail in Galle

I’ve got a walking something instead.

Categories
Photography Travels

[2829] Shoeshine, shoeshine

When was the last time you had a shoeshine?

Sri Lanka

Not my best photograph, but I like it. This was within the Colombo Fort.