How I Found Yunus Emre
In the year 2011 I had the opportunity to participate in a demonstration conducted by the Mevlevi Order of America. The venue was in Sebastopol. There I used to attend the Universal Dances for Peace, twice a month. One day in April, the chief guest was Postneshin Jelaluddin Loras, head of this order, affectionately called Efendi. This was my first exposure to Turkish devotional dance and music. I was mesmerized by both. Few days later I went with friends to Berkeley, to attend a workshop in whirling conducted by Efendi.
Then on I practiced whirling in my kitchen, the only non-carpeted place in the whole house. The need to whirl with music overcame me and that led to an intense search on you tube. The selection I chose was an instrumental one titled Yunus Emre, performed by Omar Tekbilek. Within that selection I chose only one that I would turn, and that was “Ben yururum yane yane”. Mind you I had no idea what the words Yunus Emre stood for at that time. That is how ignorant I was. Speaking to Binnur Apaydin, owner of the Real Doner restaurant, I mentioned what I was doing. She had a broad smile as I spoke and then explained to me who Yunus Emre was, Turkey’s favorite mystic poet. A frantic search on the Net followed where I looked up the meaning of the song I had chosen and studied who Yunus Emre was. The song strangely described my own spiritual state in detail! My love affair with Yunus Emre thus began, resulting in absorbing more knowledge about him, his poems and also singing his poems.
Having later attended in the following years, 3 or 4 music workshops conducted by musicologist Timucin Cevicoglu I became very comfortable in singing ilahis, compositions by mystics. I remember how I stubbornly refused to attend Ayin classes much to the dismay of hoca (Timucin). I explained to my puzzled student friends that Ayins do nothing for my soul, while ilahis do it to me. There is a hint of the Western classical music peformance technique in Ayins, I felt somehow, that I did not care for. I wished to touch the pure mystic soul of Turkey and I found that only in Turkish ilahis. By the way I was the only student in all the workshops who could not read Western notation. It is solely and painstakingly by listening that I learned. Hoca was very pleased that I picked up nuances that could not be notated. The students teased me as crazy, for my insistence to know the detailed meaning of the songs, which I never got in any of those classes. I ended up looking into the Net and reading books. My love affair now widened to include many an ashik from Turkey. At this point I no longer whirled as the singing and drumming the bendir consumed my whole being. It got to the point that as a trained musician in Karnatak and Hindusthani music and having composed and directed performances in classical Indian dances for several years, strangely I lost interest and comfort in singing those styles. Miraculously even my voice had changed once I sang ilahis. It almost felt like a personality change in my vocals. Even my tender young grand daughters while putting them to sleep I would ask “Do you want ilahis or Indian songs. Emphatically both would say “Ilahis”.
Binnur at the restaurant always teased me. “Why are you so interested in Yunus. You should go to Rumi.” She would mock. My reply was always the same. “I have nothing against Rumi. My heart is being tugged by Yunus. What can I do?”. Many years have passed since then and I have not changed. Only I caused a shock to her and her husband when I told them. “Did you know Rumi was not a Turk? His approach was towards the elite while the Turkish ashiklars message is for all. I think that is why I am drawn to them.”
When I heard the song “Icimde bir dertli bulbul”, I found within those words my own love for Yunus Emre being expressed. This also happens to be the one song always requested by my younger grand daughter Priya. There in that song, the line “ Sol böğrüme ince bir dert, Batar Yunus Yunus diye” was already for many years a physical reality for me , and now I know why !
In 2015 I visited Turkey for the first time. One of the main places that I wished to visit was the town of Eskishehir. Here the tombs of Yunus Emre and not far from here was also the tomb to his Sheikh, Tapduk Emre. While standing by the tomb of Yunus Emre I was overcome with a feeling that something was not right. So silently I uttered Yunus Emre’s favorite prayer as a test. It confirmed for me that perhaps he is not buried there. On the other hand, when I prayed at his Sheikh’s tomb, I felt the presence of one who was like a father!
My early morning daily prayer routine at a window facing east, has several interfaith prayers. Included in that routine and preceding the zikrs that I conduct at the monthly Turkish Mystical Music sessions, this prayer that is supposed to be Yunus Emre’s favorite prayer is recited and sung respectively by me, acknowledging my forever, un- advertised, personal and sacred bond with him. I close with that here.
Binbir adlu bir Allah
Yüzbin adlu ya Subhan
Bir iş düştü bir Derman
Sen yari kıl ya Rahman
You, the one with thousand names, oh Allah,
Oh, glorified one known by one hundred thousand names,
There is one downfall to be handled, oh Physician,
Oh, compassionate one, oh friend to the mortal.
June 22, 2020, Petaluma, California