Sufi poets

Many poets belonged to Sufi brotherhoods, some of which reflected the organisation of the princely courts in their reliance on and devotion to a spiritual leader, the pīr or shaykh. Other individuals followed the Sufi path as wandering dervishes. Sufism followed the mystical branch of Islam that emphasised the essential unity of religions and the centrality of love. It favoured direct experience of divine love, rather than the study of orthodox theology from books. The Sufi path could be either one of slow progression through various stages or an experience of intense spiritual ecstasy, resulting in loss of self and submersion in divine unity. One allegory for this journey is ʿAṭṭār's best-known work, Manṭiq al-Ṭayr (Conference of the Birds), which conveys the idea of the journey towards spiritual perfection through a group of birds setting out with their leader to find the mythical Simurgh, a symbol of the Divine.

The lover and beloved became the stock theme of the great mystic poets such as Rūmī, Saʿdī and Ḥāfiẓ, some of whom were themselves prominent spiritual leaders. Their poetic forms ranged from quatrains or rubaʿiyāt and medium-length lyrical verse such as the ghazal to longer narrative stories in rhyme, known as masnavī. Increasingly, these were copied into beautiful manuscripts, often as highly ornamented as the poetry itself.

Love and Devotion exhibition poster
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