Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Attar's epic tale explored and analysed

The Canticle of the Birds is the thread running through the 20th Fez Sacred Music Festival. It's a mystical tale that begs to be explored and at the fifth forum, this major work of Persian literature, was debated and analysed

The theme of this years festival is the Conference of the Birds, a theme based on an epic work by the 12th Century poet Farid ud-din Attar. The Canticle of the Birds also provided the story behind the musical journey for the festival's opening night extravaganza.

Leili Anvar spent 15 years discovering the work, it took 4 years to translate the tale into a language French speaker’s could understand. At the Musee Batha earlier today, she described the work as sublime and a masterpiece. Anvar told the discussion group “we have to be seen. Attar teaches this…. to be seen is to be in love… to be in love is to desire to see more and more.”

Attar composed the work using his intuition that he considered a gift from God and an awakening of the spirit. The poem travelled to Europe thanks largely to the ‘caravans of knowledge’ that journeyed during medieval times via the Ottoman Empire to the monasteries, and ended up on the tall lecterns of the knowledgable.

The translation in verse by Leili Anvar reveals the texts symbolic power. There was much discussion about the mirror conceived by Attar. Michael Barry (pictured above) co-authored a book on Attar’s masterpiece with Anvar. He observed the mirror is a shared aspect of Sufism and argued “when we see the mirror we see ourselves – a parcel of reality, humanity examines the mirror which is also a metaphor of divinity.” Barry also raised the 30 birds and the journey through the 7 valleys and the symbolism of this odyssey. He asserted that the birds represent everything that is visible and invisible. “This is the marvellous equation of the Sufi universe. On one side all that we can see, on the other side, the infinite.” Barry argued the epic poem is one of the best introductions to Sufism.

Mustapha Cherif
Moderator and Festival Director, Faouzi Skali
Moderator Faouzi Skali drew the link between the spirituality of Attar’s work with the discussion yesterday that focused on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. It was a thread Algerian philosopher Mustapha Cherif also raised. He told the group the journey of the birds is a voyage of the soul on a spiritual journey. “We have to overcome the suffering of existence. We cannot go to paradise without suffering.” Cherif said he birds symbolise unity and he linked this to the political situation. “It is not only a question of solidarity in relation to Palestinian’s ... we must also be aware that our future depends on that cause.”

Anvar told the group “the more you read Attar’s work the more it is generous and the more you taste its virtues.” There was little doubt the beauty of this epic poem is in the eye of the beholder and more is revealed the more one read’s the tale.

This was the final of this year’s forums and like all the others it started more than half an hour late. This has been a point of irritation for attendees. One observed that the reason for the late start was due to the tardiness of festival director Faouzi Skali. Most days he arrived 30 minutes after the starting time. This is unacceptable at an international festival and needs to be addressed.

Text and photographs: Stephanie Kennedy

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