Rūmī’s Mathnawī has engendered a rich commentary tradition, which can be traced back to his own time. Commentaries on the Mathnawī were composed in Persian, Turkish, Arabic and Urdu throughout the medieval and pre-modern period, which indicates the importance of Rūmī’s teachings in Sufism and in the Islamic sciences. Furthermore, the Nay Nāmeh is said to be an account of the separation of the lover, personified as the reed (nay), from its source of origin--the reed-bed (nayistān), where it dwelled in the presence of God, the Beloved. It is argued that this prelude to the Mathnawī captures the major themes that appear in the ensuing several thousand rhyming couplets.
The current study explores the symbols of nay نی and nayistān نیستان through a textual analysis of the well-known Persian sharḥ written by Badī‘al-Zamān Furūzānfar (d.1970). Furūzānfar’s commentary demonstrates a modern approach to the reading of Rūmī’s Mathnawī, centered on the poetical aspects of the poems. His commentary will be compared with two other commentaries: The first one is an Ottoman-era Sufi commentary on the Mathnawī written by Ismā‘īl Anqarawī (d. 1631) a Mevlevī shaykh, whose sharḥ exemplifies the mystical approach to the Mathnawī. The second commentary is a philosophical interpretation by Mullā Hādī Sabzawārī (d.1873), a philosopher following the School of Illumination founded by Suhrawardī (d.1191) . His is a rationalistic approach, relying heavily on the Akbarian terminologies explicating Rūmī’s poetry. The paper attempts to elucidate the role of the commentators in understanding Rūmī’s poetry. It attempts to answer the question to what extent a commentator remains faithful to the original text, and what kind of audience is he addressing. Highlighting the distinctive contributions of the three authors, it emphasizes the need for a more comprehensive approach towards Rumi’s mystical poetry, since literary analysis alone is insufficient for its appreciation.