KARACHI: “The East was an attempt to rise above the body,” Saleem Ahmed wrote in Mashriq Har Gaya, his monumental poem. In relation to the West, which reflects the body and its wishes, the East was according to Ahmed, a representation of the soul.
It is true that between 500 AD and 1,500 AD, a time that the West now commonly looks at with disdain, religion reigned over Europe for more than 1,000 years, and Europe was then still a land of mystics, hermits and recluses.
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However the Judeo-Christian practise was lit by the fire of piety that burned in the temples and hermitages of the West during the mediaeval period. In the East, the land of prophets and avatars and the cradle of the world’s greatest religions, was the epicentre of this spirituality.
So it was in the east that the prince of Kapilavastu left his palace in search of nirvana, where Ibhrahim of Balkh left his throne and became a vagabond, and where Yunus, Nalihan’s judge, hanged up his spurs to hack the monastery’s firewood.
But the power to renounce riches and authority freely was not the hallmark of the spiritual prowess of the East. The East recognised that this renunciation was just the beginning of an arduous struggle with oneself and that renouncing one’s own impulses and pride was the real achievement.
Seen from this lens, the 2015 drama series Yunus Emre: Aşkın Yolculuğu by Mehmet Bozdag is not only a historical and biographical sketch of one of the greatest spiritual poets in Turkey. This drama portrays the East’s moral prowess, its capacity to renounce all earthly goods and worldly wishes.
The tale of the internal struggle which precedes each of these renunciations is also Yunus Emre. But above all, Yunus Emre is a love tale, a prerequisite for taking up this battle and winning it.
Love is the meeting point
Bacim Sultan falls in love with Yunus. In love with Yunus, Zahide disappears. But the affection of Yunus for Bacim is overshadowed by his love and loyalty to Sheikh Tapduk Emre, his spiritual guide and tutor, who is, incidentally, the father of both Bacim and Zahide.
Yunus is led by Sheikh Tapduk to God, where all love converges. All love has a single root. Each beauty is a representation of God’s beauty.
And passion permeates the show as a whole. Nalihan, the small town where Yunus Emre lives, is in the clouds. It walks in its bazaar and wanders through its alleys; in the morning, it is its golden light which fills its houses.
It is in the dervish zikr, in Sheikh Tapduk Emre’s nightly sermons, and in the sacred poetry that finally spill out on the end of his holy quest from the mouth of Yunus.