Jul 09 2014

Sarmad – My heart searched for your fragrance

Published by at 9:49 am under Poetry

My heart searched for your fragrance
by Sarmad

English version by Isaac A. Ezekiel

My heart searched for your fragrance
      in the breeze moving at dawn,
      my eyes searched for the flower of your face
      in the garden of creation.
Neither could lead me to your abode —
      contemplation alone showed me the way.

— from Sarmad: Martyr to Love Divine, by Isaac A. Ezekiel

/ Photo by Courtney /

I know that the poem emails have been less frequent in recent weeks. I have been working on the upcoming anthology (I know, I’ve been talking about it for a while, but it is coming…), balancing my day job, and still dealing with ups and downs in health. Besides, a little uncertainty is a good thing; it helps us to bring fresh eyes to each new poem.

Reading this lovely poem by Sarmad, I can honestly embrace either side of its point. He is saying that, no matter how beautiful and uplifting the the world around us may be, the Eternal is only found within the inner space of deep contemplation. And that is such an important reminder for the human world that is perpetually hooked by the senses and the desire to comprehend everything in terms of material reality. Even the purest appreciation of the most stunning panorama does not hold God. Always, always, the Eternal is found within.

And yet– physical reality, especially the natural world in all its life and beauty, reveals something to us of the deeper Reality. In the sunrise, in a flower, we do not see the face of God… but, when we learn to look, we can see there a suggestion of a smile. Spirit playfully hides just behind the physical. Grasping at the physical world leads to failure and blindness, but recognizing its beauty can lead us to inner stillness and true seeing.

So, should we agree with Sarmad, or disagree? Both, I think.

PS- Sending blessings and good wishes to all of my Muslim friends celebrating the holy month of Ramadan.


Iran/Persia & India (? – 1659) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

Sarmad (sometimes called Sarmad the Cheerful or Sarmad the Martyr), is a fascinating and complex character who seems to have bridged several cultures in Persia and India. Sarmad originally lived in the Kashan region, between Tehran and Isfahan, in what is today Iran. He was from a minority community of the society. Some biographies say Sarmad was originally from a Jewish merchant family, though others say he was Armenian. Because of his possible Jewish heritage and his later migration to Delhi, he is sometimes called the Jewish Sufi Saint of India.

He had an excellent command of both Persian and Arabic, essential for his work as a merchant. Hearing that precious items and works of art were being purchased in India at high prices, Sarmad gathered together his wares and traveled to India where he intended to sell them.

Near the end of his journey, however, he met a beautiful Indian boy and was entranced. This ardent love (‘ishq) created such a radical transformation in his awareness that Sarmad immediately dropped all desire for wealth and worldly comfort. In this ecstatic state, he abandoned his considerable wealth and, losing all concern for social convention, he began to wander about without clothes, becoming a naked faqir.

Some biographers assert that Sarmad formally converted to Islam, while others claim he had a universalist notion of God and religion, seeing no conflict between his Judaism and the esoteric truth of the Sufi path he adopted. In his own poetry, Sarmad asserts that he is neither Jew, nor Muslim, nor Hindu.

He continued to journey through India, but now as a naked dervish rather than as a merchant. He ended up in Delhi where he found the favor of a prince in the region and gained a certain amount of influence at court. That prince, however, was soon overthrown by Aurengzeb. The new king and orthodox religious authorities were offended by Sarmad’s open criticism of their social hypocrisy and mindless religious formalism.

Aurengzeb, in fear of the people’s love of Sarmad, staged a show trial. Sarmad was initially accused of breaking an injunction against public nudity, but that was later dropped in favor of the charges of atheism and unorthodox religious practice, for which he was convicted. The army was called in to occupy Delhi and prevent a popular uprising, and the naked saint was publicly beheaded. The story is told that, after the beheading, Sarmad’s body picked up its own head which recited the Muslim affirmation of faith the kalima-i taiyaba (“There is no god but God, and Muhammad is his Prophet”) and then proclaimed to the crowd, “Ana al-Haq” (“I am Reality, I am one with God”), a statement famously made by another beloved Sufi martyr, Mansur al-Hallaj. Sarmad thus proclaims the continuing stream of truth despite violent repression, and also his unity with the Ultimate.

Sarmad’s tomb in Delhi is today visited by pilgrims of all faiths: Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, and others.

More poetry by Sarmad

7 responses so far

7 Responses to “Sarmad – My heart searched for your fragrance”

  1. ebrahimon 10 Jul 2014 at 1:39 am

    The lunatic, the lover, and the poet,
    Are of imagination all compact…
    And as imagination bodies forth
    The form of things unknown, the poets pen
    Turns them to shapes, and give to airy nothing
    A local habitation and a name.

    William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream,

  2. Soo Youngon 10 Jul 2014 at 5:30 am

    I have been craving a certain type of space to be quiet and inspired in the morning before I work. That is why I have come back to your site my friend. This poem you posted is gorgeous and expresses the love I have in my life now that is forged on awareness and spirit. Thank you for sharing. I send you light and healing.

    My response: For my love, Dustin

    Sitting across from you, I felt waves
    undulating through my being
    as if caught in a funnel of time
    that removed all that is transient
    and unnecessary. No more resistance
    to what was already deemed
    necessary for our lives to converge
    in this lifetime. Again and again,
    the evolution of our spirit
    have brought me to you,
    and I both forgot and remembered
    who I am and was meant to be.

  3. Therese Monaghan O.P.on 11 Jul 2014 at 6:25 am

    “Contemplation alone showed me the way.” Sarmad’s
    line caught me thinking I’m not active enough in
    in spiritual practice. I am grateful for the reminder of what is of prime importance!! Thanks Ivan. Blessings to you.

  4. Bethon 11 Jul 2014 at 1:51 pm

    I had just been contemplating how I find so much beauty in the physical world. For instance, one of the most beautiful things in the world to me are my cat’s paws. Then wondering if I’m too attached then to the physical world, and yet at the same time I see and find God, The Divine, in things such as Nature, flowers, cats paws…..

  5. marrobon 16 Jul 2014 at 5:46 am

    Rereading this I’m transported to a misty blue pool of reflection, where I need to
    go often, daily if possible. It feels so ephemeral and yet the most REAL place in my life.

    I also appreciate how the thread is picked up in Shakespeare and Soo Young’s
    touching poem . Beautiful! Thank you all.

  6. bharation 17 Jul 2014 at 7:38 am

    contemplation alone showed the way…
    yet the way to contemplation was shown by a cat’s perfect paws, by sunlight through a rain drenched leaf, by fine bones smiling through age-thinned skin, by a beautiful chaikhana where many raindrops meet…

  7. Peter Mountainon 21 Jul 2014 at 5:19 pm

    “contemplation” ~ugh; Perfect up to that point.

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