Preface to Translation of Puppet Opera Rumi

In April 2010, I was in the middle of a conference in my own area of research, wireless networking, in Sydney, Australia that my brother, a Psychiatrist by profession, sent me a link to the middle episode (minute 34:45 of the complete 2 hour video) of what I later on translated as “The Puppet Opera of Rumi”. This episode was the one in which Rumi is depressed after the death of his father and Shams suddenly appears in the scene, while reciting:

“World revives every moment, and we,

unaware of revival, think it remains permanent!


This introduction astonishes Rumi and their conversation begins with an exchange of:

“Who are you?”.

Rumi introduces himself as:

“A drop from the wine of heavens!”

And Shams enlightens him by:

“This world is a prison, and we the prisoners:

ditch a hole in the jail and liberate yourself!”

followed by:

“Mankind is concealed under language,

this tongue is a veil over the gate of the soul!”

This fundamental discussion continues in more details with, the screen writer, designer and director, Behrooz Gharibpour’s elegant selections of Rumi’s poetry recited by fascinating voice of the Homayoun Shajarian and Mohammad Moetamedi, two of the leading young gifted voices in the Persian classical music, presented with astonishing background music composed by Behzad Abedi and performed by National Ukrain Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Sirenko. This episode reminded me of fundamental conversation between the Krishna and Arjuna in the Baghavad Gitta episode of the Mahabharata video production in India. Rarely an art form is rich enough to address fundamental questions such as “To Be or not To Be?” or “Why should I go to war?” or “Who am I ?” or “Who are you?” in a context that deeply penetrates the soul and yet remains simple and crisp. Certainly, this episode appeared to me in that caliber.

The video clip was around ten minutes and it was posted in a Persian video site as a sample, independent from the rest of the story, just like Baghavad Gitta that can be presented as an independent part of the Mahabharata. However, I searched the YouTube under “Opera Mowlavi” and luckily found the entire seventeen episodes of the full opera posted under account “Behbehzad”. I could not help watching the videos over and over again to further understand the recited mystic poetry of Rumi and the overall story rendered by Behrooz. Soon I started taking notes of the recited poetry in Persian. Re-writing the recited poetry used in a classic Persian music was an old hobby of mine for the past 40 years that I have been living in the United States. That has helped me to understand the poetry and further contemplate in its mystic values.

For those who may not be familiar with classical Persian music, it is a unique musical system which has its roots from the court music evolved in Elamite Empire over three thousand years ago and its latest advancement in ancient time was during the Sassanid Empire (224-651) when the systematic foundation of this music was founded by musicians such as Barbat and Nakisa. In the post Islamic era of the history of Persia this music intertwined with Persian court poetry that evolved from the court of Samanid Empire (819–999) in the North Western part of Iran in the new Persian language known as “Farsi-e Dari” or “Darbari” literary meaning “Persian language of the Magistrate’s Court”. This poetry reached to its peak during nine to thirteenth century, also known as the “Islamic Renaissance Era”, when the foundation of what is known as “Islamic Arts and Sciences” were established.

One of the fruits of that renaissance was emergence of the concept of Sufism, the mystic interpretation of Islam, which became the corner stone of emerging Persian poetry. This Persian poetry gained enormous popularity in the past millennium to the extent that it was recited in the courts of Ottoman Emperors in current Turkey to Mongolian Empire courts of the India. More recently this poetry penetrated the Western countries and received tremendous attention through English translations of Omar Khyam (1048–1131) by Edward FitzGerald (1859) and translation of Rumi’s Masnawi by Raynold Nicolson between 1925 and 1940. Foundations of today’s Persian music that intertwines selected poetry of the classic poets such as Hafez, Sadie, Khayyam and more recently Rumi were most probably formed during the Safavid Empire (1501-1736) and Ghajar Dynasty (1794-1925) and it has been carried to the modern time.

Back to my original story, when I came back from Australia to Massachusetts, where I reside in the past 40 years, I was enormously fascinated with the story, selected poetry, music and fascinating voice of Homayoun Shajarian, Mohammad Moetamedi and other singers. I sent an email to Behrooz Gharibpour, the director and writer of the Opera, ”Like many others, I have watched your master piece “Opera Mowlavi” on the YouTube. Many times and again! I want to pass it by my children and friends who are not fluent in Farsi and I believe many others have the same desire. You need to add sub-title with translation to English to make it available to them. Do you have any plan to do so? “ Behrooz answered me in Persian and I translate “I appreciate your kind words. I am sure it is possible to translate this work, but it needs plenty of time. Just like what I have done: one full year of work plus at least 30 years of studying Rumi. I hope someone can take this responsibility.”

As a follow up I translated a few pages and contact Dr. Mahbanoo Homaee, daughter of former Professor Homaee, the world authority on Rumi, who is also an expert in Rumi residing in the Boston area and teaching Rumi in different academic and private settings. Considering the selected poetry from the Rumi are cuts from different parts of the Rumi’s work artistically glued together to convey Behrooz’s message from his story, Dr. Homaee checked parts of my translations against those of Nicholson and encouraged me to continue. In the meanwhile one of my PhD students, Ferit Akgul, originally from Turkey and knowing about Rumi, downloaded Behzad’s YouTube videos and I started using Video Maker Pro to add the subtitles on the script as I was translating and posting the results in the YouTube. I found that lip synching the poetry with the singers and narrator adds a new dimension to translation that is unique to subtitling and not needed in the regular Rumi’s poetry translations such as those of Nicholson.

Later on Avisheh Mohsenian from Pasfarda group in Chicago joint the project and managed to find Austin O’Molley, a PhD student of Prof. Franklin Lewis of the University of Chicago, one of the leading world renowned authorities on Rumi, to edit my translations. He did a fantastic revision and I included that in the subtitles. In 2011 during my visit to Iran for another US sponsored technical conference in my field, my wife and I managed to visit Behrooz and his lovely wife to further resolve some of my questions. He gave me the complete two hour version of the video and after return to the US, I added the finalized subtitles to the complete two hours video of Opera Rumi and posted it on the YouTube. I had several request to present the video with subtitle in different occasions in the US and I prepare this preface for those occasions. Recently, I noticed that the Opera is gaining a new momentum in Iran, so I decide to post the Opera as well as this introduction to the Facebook, wishing that it may reach a wider audience to enjoy the masterpiece.

For those who cannot spare time to watch the entire Opera, the aforementioned episode that originally attracted me to the project was Behrooz’s novel rendering of the first acquaintance of Rumi with Shams, which begins at minute 34:45 of the video and is entitled “Thirteen years passes between the dead of Rumi’s father and emergence of Shams in his life”.

Kaveh Pahlavan,

Newton, Massachusetts,

July 25, 2015