If a tree could wander – RUMI

Oh, if a tree could wander 
and move with foot and wings.
It would not suffer the axe blows 
and not the pain of saws!

For would the sun not wander
away in every night?
How could at every morning, 
the world be lighted up?

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And if the ocean’s water
would not rise to the sky, 
How would the plants be quickened
by streams and gentle rain?

The drop that left its homeland, 
the sea, and then returned?
It found an oyster waiting
and it grew into a pearl.

Did Yusaf not leave his father,
in grief and tears and despair?
Did he not, by such a journey,
gain kingdom and fortune wide?

Did not the Prophet travel
to far Medina, friend?
And there he found a new kingdom
and ruled a hundred lands. 

You lack a foot to travel?
Then journey into yourself!
And like a mine of rubies
receive the sunbeams’ print!

Out of yourself, such a journey 
will lead you to your self,
It leads to transformation
of dust into pure gold!

Translated by Annemarie Schimmel

The words have such a beautiful flow. You read it and the rhythm immediately takes you.

The journey of all things and their constant worship. Whether in movement or stillness or in the gentle sway of the wind.

Treasures of words that have themselves, journeyed hundreds of years to reach us.

5 things you didn’t know about Istanbul.

There are so many things that can be said about Turkey’s most iconic metropolis, the beautiful shore-lined city of Istanbul. But let me reveal 5 things that you DIDN’T know about Istanbul.

A cultural hub built upon a myriad of people from every walk of life imaginable, the city has a history that has gone unmatched for centuries. From simit vendors to briefcases, to colourful scarves… or colourful hair, the city is a jungle.

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Birds eye view of Istanbul and the HAGIA SOPHIA

But behind Istanbul’s vibrant facade there lies so many untold stories waiting to be heard. Yes, it is the only city to sit between two continents. Yes, it has been the capital of some of the most powerful Empires the world has ever know… But what has been forgotten that only Istanbul’s rock and stone still remember?

1. The legendary tale of ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ was set along Istanbul’s Bosphorus strait.

To the ancient Greeks, the Bosphorus strait that cuts through Istanbul, was formidably described as the edge of the known world. A narrow passage between the Sea of Marama and the Black sea, its dangerous rapids and undercurrents made for the perfect test of a sailor’s skill on treacherous journeys. It was one such Greek hero, Jason and his band of warrior Argonauts, who treaded these open waters in the Argo, defeating the currents and victoriously, bringing home the prized Golden Fleece.

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‘THE ARGO’ – by Konstantinos Volanakis

The region around the Marmara was once a highway of Greek ships, their ruined forts and artefacts still scattered along Turkey’s shores. Troy, the ancient Trojan city, also lies ruined along its banks, overlooking the famous Hellespont now known as the Dardanelles. Today, it is only weathered stone and ancient legends that remember how Turkey was once a land of the Greeks.

2. Istanbul was founded based on a prophecy made by ancient oracles.

In the 8th century BC, a community of Megarians migrated in hopes of establishing a new settlement in Greece. But only a century later, they were facing rejection and exile. Desperate for a solution, their ruler, a man named Byzas, consulted with the oracles at the Temple of Delphi who gave him hope, prophesying that the new homeland of his people would be ‘across from the land of the blind.’

Armed with new determination, he set off on a journey down the Marmara. He eventually hit land and after roaming across its hills for a while, came upon the view of the Seraglio point, Istanbul’s shoreline where the Bosphorus and Golden Horn meet. Baffled at how no one had yet claimed such a beautiful piece of land, he recalled the prophecy of the oracles and realised; any man foolish enough to have ignored such a place must indeed have been blind.

The city of Byzantium was established on that very shore, a city that ruled for a thousand years and would one day be known as Istanbul.

3. Constantinople’s conquest was foretold when Mehmet al-Fatih was a baby.

Father of Mehmet al-Fatih, Sultan Murad II, whose mind was often preoccupied with an ambition for Constantinople, found himself one day, worried about rumours of a Sufi master in Ankara who was said to have attained a great number of followers. Fearful this man’s intention was to plan a revolt, Sultan Murad requested that he be brought before the throne so his true intent could be determined.

In response to the invitation, Haji Bayram wali, a humble man of simplicity and spirituality travelled with his student, Aksemseddin, to meet the Sultan in Edirne. After a brief conversation, Sultan Murad was full of apology. Realising immediately that Haji Bayram was a true mumin, he appointed him his spiritual master and would from then on requested his presence in Edirne for months at a time.

It was during one of Haji Bayram’s visits to Edirne, not long after the birth of Prince Mehmet, he found the Sultan deeply concerned about the state of Constantinople. Frustrated Sultan Murad asked, “Do you think we can conquer Constantinople?” Haji Bayram paused and reflected. He then replied calmly, “My Sultan. I think neither you nor I will see the conquest of Constantinople. But InshaAllah, this little one in the cradle,” he said, pointing to Prince Mehmet, “and this beardless disciple,” he said, pointing to his student Aksemseddin, “they will get the honour.”

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SULTAN MEHMET AND SHAYKH AKSEMSEDDIN

Less than two centuries later, in the spring of 1453, Sultan Mehmet and Shaykh Aksemseddin stood side by side on a field of victory overlooking the walls of the new Istanbul.

 

4. Istanbul’s layout follows a thousand year old Ottoman structure.

Istanbul has often been described as chaotic and unorganised. But looking past the crowds of people, the new 20th century architecture and the endless buzzing of noise in the air, you will find a city built upon the structure of a thousand year old tradition. The Ottoman Kulliye. 

The Ottoman kulliye can be loosely compared to modern society’s concept of ‘districts’. But Ottoman districts were different in that they comprised of five essential institutions that each played a role in keeping the community of that district together. These are the first four:

  • The Madrassa
  • The Hamam
  • The Imaret (Soup Kitchen)
  • A medical center

These centres provided everything necessary for the people of the community. While the larger part of society worked as merchants or traders in the market place during the day, after hours, food, hygiene, education and healthcare was provided in the Kulliye. So which is the last and most important institution?

The Mosque! Not only did the mosque serve as the place where the community gathered 5 times a day in worship, but the mosque was also where the district Kadi was stationed ready to iron out any legal or administrative issues that pertained to the kulliye. The mosque was the center of the kulliye with everything else expanding-out around it.

If you look at the location of any mosque in Istanbul, you are guaranteed to find a madrassa, imaret or hammam built within the vicinity. Many of them no longer serve their original function, but a city with over 3,000 mosques, at least now its a little easier for us to understand how Istanbul was once known for having 1400 wash-rooms(hamams).

5. Napoleon’s quote about Istanbul

Rarely do we hear about the relationship between the Ottomans and the French. And rarely do we find that the little that is said is in fact legitimate and not dangerously suspicious of having been corrupted somewhere along the ages.

But during the 19th century, Napoleon Bonaparte, one of Frances most iconic military and political leaders described the city in a quote that has resonated all over history… and all over the internet, making appearances on countless blog posts and news feeds.

“If the Earth were a single state, Istanbul would be its capital.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

But he wasn’t the only French man to have spoken so graciously about Istanbul. The French poet Alphonse de Lamartine also said, “If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul.”

And the French writer Pierre Loti was also recorded to have said, “Holy Istanbul! Your name is the most enchanting one of all names which enchants me.”

And after reading those 3 quotes, all that can really be said here is, the French have excellent taste!

On that note, let me leave you with one point which I feel is a slight misconception travellers have about Istanbul and Turkey.

Istanbul doesn’t reflect all of Turkey

While Istanbul may be Turkey’s nucleus, it is often mistaken for being the end and beginning of all Turkey has to offer. After travelling to over 10 different cities around the country, I can firmly say, the world outside Istanbul is a journey of its own with a vibrancy of its own. 

With 13.5 million people, Istanbul is a whirlwind of movement. Busy. Noisy. Cars everywhere. Tourists everywhere. Life in the fast lane. And like every big city, you can sometimes get lost in the crowd and emotions. So just keep in mind, what you see in the big city, is often only a characteristic of the city itself. But take a step outside the city limits. A scenic drive to Bursa, Edirne or Konya, and the energetic charge of Istanbul’s streets is suddenly subdued into a calm, serene environment where the locals smile a whole lot more.

That’s not to say Istanbul isn’t a treasure of its own. It is a city that you could spend a lifetime wandering and still be awestruck by its hidden gems. But don’t fool yourself into thinking you will ever know the true Turkey from Istanbul alone.

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Things you didn’t know about the Hagia Sophia

There is little that hasn’t been said in celebration of the Great Hagia Sophia of Istanbul.

With a history that encompasses 2 different religions and having stood for almost 1,500 years, the building has been hailed an 8th wonder of the world.

Great columns and pillars, the remnants of ancient civilizations, decorate its interior. Colourful mosaics from the most detailed artisans gleam from its walls. And a dome, that for centuries was the largest in the world, hangs 50 metres above the ground bringing the building together under a colossus achievement of ancient architecture.

The Hagia Sophia of Istanbul decorating the Turkish Skyline for over a thousand years

The Hagia Sophia of Istanbul decorating the Turkish Skyline for over a thousand years

But here are few interesting facts about the Hagia Sophia that you may not have known:

  1. Those who wanted to enter, had to cleanse themselves before coming inside.

In one of the courtyards stood a fountain called a Phiale and it was here that people who wished to enter the Hagia Sophia, had to wash themselves before they were welcomed inside. Ancient sources reveal that the passage, “Clean your souls as well as your faces as you enter the church”, was written over the fountain as a reminder to all.

  1. Hagia Sophia’s Dome isn’t completely round.

Measuring 31 metres from East to West and 32.5 metres from North to South, the dome is slightly oval in shape. It has a height of 56.22 metres and the centre of the dome has the calligraphic inscription of the 35th verse of Surah an-Nur.

Interior look of Hagia Sophia's uneven Dome

Interior look of Hagia Sophia’s uneven Dome

“Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The example of His light is like a niche within which is a lamp, the lamp is within glass, the glass as if it were a pearly star lit from a blessed olive tree, neither of the east nor of the west whose oil would almost glow even if untouched by fire. Light upon light. Allah guides to His like whom He wills. And Allah presents examples for the people, and Allah is Knowing of all things.”

  1. The original Byzantine mosaics were never destroyed by the Ottomans.

Contrary to popular belief, the Byzantine mosaics that decorate the interior of the building were not immediately covered over. European travellers who came to the city in the mid 18th century noted that most of the mosaics were still visible, and some had even been restored. Only in the case of human figures, the images had been plastered over. But when uncovered, were found to be completely intact below the plaster.

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Hagia Sophia’s Mosaic decorated ceiling

  1. Emperor Justinian gloated that his construction surpassed all in Christendom.

Upon Hagia Sophia’s completion in 537, Emperor Justinian rode towards the building’s inauguration in a chariot pulled by 14 horses. Entering the mighty construction, he felt so over-whelmed by the splendour of the space before him that he proclaimed, “Solomon, I have outdone thee!”

His reference was made to the Solomon Temple in Jerusalem, a monument that legend claims was the greatest in all the Christian world.

  1. The Hagia Sophia was decaying when Sultan Mehmet arrived in 1453.

When the Ottoman forces entered Constantinople after a 53 day siege, Sultan Mehmet’s first stop was the great Byzantine Church. But the building was badly deteriorated.

Having endured the violent crusades of the 13th century which saw the city ransacked, the fine treasures of the Hagia Sophia swept away and the precious mosaics scraped off the walls, both city and Empire were unable to maintain reparation and upkeep. The dying Byzantine reign finally fell with the Ottoman conquest of the city. Restorations began immediately and the building went from church to mosque.

At the weeping column in Hagia Sophia

At the weeping column in Hagia Sophia

  1. Legend says that one of buildings columns has healing powers.

Also known as ‘the sweating column’ because of its perpetually damp surface, the column was said to have the power of curing ailments. Even Emperor Justinian who suffered from severe headaches, treated himself with this column.

The column is also said to grant wishes. The modern day tradition is to try rotate your hand 360 degrees while your thumb is inside the copper hole for the wish to come true.

I’m still waiting to find out if my own wish came true!

Admiring the incredible decorations

Admiring the incredible decorations

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Food for Thought

Can you believe, I am not a single individual me. I am a million different people in one. I am a reflection of every single being. A mirror of every living creature that interacts with me.

Every time I meet someone new, I have a choice to be whoever I want. Yet I am also bound to being a completely different and completely new person to who ever I am meeting. Isn’t that extraordinary!

I am the person I choose to be on this particular day. Yet, I am someone completely different to someone else as compared to who I am to myself. And then if you think about what I must be to a blade of grass, or what I am to the ant I blow off my finger, or to my neighbor who hates my taste in music, I have a million different identities.

But are any of them really me? and who is the real me? And is it important for me to know who me is? And is ‘me’ even definable?

My understanding of Bob

I’m currently reading ‘Fantasia of the Unconscious’ by D H Lawrence, and if anyone else has read it, you know what I mean when I say it is another one of those mind blowing reads.

I won’t deny… I do get lost in his anatomy at times. But, I truly believe that mind blowing books should be read more than once, so I find it excusable to let certain concepts fly over my head. Sometimes certain knowledge just isn’t ready for you. Have you ever re-watched a movie from the past? From when you were very young. And re-watching it as an adult, the visuals, the script, the foundation of the story makes sense in a completely different context. Well, that’s how I feel about mind blowing books. They have to be read more than once and at different intervals in your life.

I just started the sixth chapter and I’ve barely made it through the second paragraph when his words just started speaking to me.

“The goal is not ideal. The aim is not mental consciousness. We want effectual human beings, not conscious ones. The final aim is not to know, but to be. There never was a more risky motto than that: Know thyself. You’ve got to know yourself as far as possible. But not just for the sake of knowing. You’ve got to know yourself so that you can at last be yourself. “Be yourself” is the last motto.”

By the forth sentence I was almost holding my breath to see what he was leading up to and then I devoured the rest. It resonated with me strongly about psychology. See, I’ve never been a big fan of psychology, as you may have gathered from my previous posts. It is interesting, no doubt. And it’s every mans temptation to have a science that explores the self to limitless ends. But I’ve always thought it a little pointless. Or perhaps better said, too much psychology does more damage than good. 

And truly, to what end does this science go? And where does it lead? And is it entirely necessary for our existence? 

The point is, we have to be. We have to live and act and exist in the world. Delving deeper and deeper into knowing ourselves, although has many benefits, its a study that one easily gets lost in. And at the end of the day, you always come back to the same conclusion… “Now that I know how I am. Now that I know who I am, what am I to do with myself?”

It’s exactly like he said… The end isn’t Know Thyself. The end is Be Yourself.

I don’t know if I’m explaining myself well, or if this particular sentence struck a cord with anyone else on the same note as it did for me. But quoting Lawrence again, a paragraph which I thought very adequate for the introduction of this particular book – Considering its rather rhetorical yet, supposedly un-rhetorical style. Haha. I’m laughing while I write this – everyone will digest his words in their own way.

“You are not me, dear reader, so make no pretentions to it. Don’t get alarmed if I say things. It isn’t your sacred mouth which is opening and shutting. As for the profanation of your sacred ears, just apply a little theory of relativity, and realize that what I say is not what you hear, but something uttered in the midst of my isolation, and arriving strangely changed and travel-worn down the long curve of your own individual circumambient atmosphere. I may say Bob, but heaven alone knows what the goose hears.”

Those last sentences though!! Brilliant.

 

Mirror Story

Okay. So unknown to many, I have a secret love of anime. I know! I know! How embarrassing and aren’t you 22 already? Yes, But whatever!

I came across this short 12 episode series, Katanagatari, which had mad reviews – and in all honestly, YES it truly is AMAZING!! – So I started watching it and I’m almost through with all 12 episodes. But there was a part in one of the episodes that I absolutely loved because it’s something that I’ve written about before and a concept that I keep so close to my understanding of human character, that I was so intrigued to come across it here.

KATANAGATARI

KATANAGATARI

So the main protagonist of the story, Yasuri Shichika (The guy beside the girl), comes across a slightly loopy holy man and they have this conversation which I really enjoyed listening to.

Yasuri: “What exactly is a holy man?”

Holy Man: “Well, in a word, a holy man is something like a mirror to people.”

Yasuri: “A mirror?”

Holy Man: “Yes. A magic mirror that reflects the truth. Yasuri-kun, have you heard of this foreign fairytale?”

Yasuri: “What?”

Holy Man: “In a far off land there lived a queen. She had a mirror that she always asked, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?” The queen wanted the mirror to say it was her, but it would reply with the name of another whom she hated.

What do you think Yasuri-kun? Should the mirror have given that answer?”

Yasuri: “It’s not like a mirror can talk in the first place!”

Holy Man: “Exactly! It wasn’t the mirror answering but rather the queen’s true feelings responding her vanity.”

Yasuri: “If what you say is true then everything just becomes what you want to see.”

We all know the tale of Snowhite. But I’d never actually thought about the meaning behind the queens actions before. So as they were talking about it, it clicked. I had to pause it because my mind went on a race-course journey into the world of human perception, physical forms, reality vs meaning, Snowhite, holy men… the works.

I know the anime barely scratched the tip of that entire concept of ‘the world being a mirror of ourselves’, but it just takes planting the seed and those who can see it will understand and look further.

There are always bits and pieces of momentary enlightenment hidden the language of storytellers but this one just spoke to me.

I really enjoy being surprised by drops of wisdom in the most unusual places. ^_^

You can watch the episodes here Katanagatari

 

Colourful Canopies

Went down to Singapore a few weeks ago and came across this canopy of Umbrellas.

I don’t know about anyone else, but to me, there is something so childishly exciting about standing under an umbrella. And even more so when there is an entire shelter of them.

Umbrellas 4

Umbrellas 2

Smiles and enchanted awe. Imagine how simply magical it would be to stand under them while it rained?

Umbrellas 3

A spectrum of Blue

Blue as sky without its clouds.
Blue as water without reflection.
Blue as bells in fading spring.
Blue as tears on painted canvas.
Blue as cold as icy lips.
Blue as blood on royal sleeves.
Blue as clear as aging eyes.
Blue as dark as the deep night.
Blue as lips without breath.
Blue as hearts stolen of love.
Blue as hands empty of touch.
Blue as thoughts dwelling in memory.

The Blue of a million different shades of expression.

Alhambra

Colours. And water. And paint. And strokes. And blobs.

Such a fascinating image.

la alhambra

Alhambra, Granada

The use of colour is absolutely gorgeous.

And you can see at the bottom of the painting, the white washed walls of the Albaycin.