The Virtues of Water

Mathnawi V: 199-235

199 Water rained (down) from the starry heavens1 for this sake: so
that it might purify those who are unclean from impurity.

Regarding the cleansing by water of all impurities, and (how) God
Most High then cleanses the water (itself) from impurity.
Undoubtedly, God the Exalted is Most Pure and Holy!

200 When water battled (impurity) and became dirty,2 so that it
became such that the senses refused (to accept) it,

God brought it back to the Ocean of Rightness, so that the Water3
of the water might wash it (clean), from (Divine) Generosity.

The following year it came (back), dragging (its long clean) robe.
"Hey, where were you?" [said the Earth]. "In the ocean of the good
and sweet ones.

"I went from this place (in a) dirty (condition), (then) I became
pure. I took (back) a robe of honor4 (and) came (once more) to the

"Look! Come to me, O impure ones, since my nature has taken
(something) from the manner of God.

205 "I will accept all your foulness, (and) will give purity like
(that of) an angel to the demon.

"(And) when I become polluted, I'll go back to that (heavenly)
place: I'll go to the Origin of the origin of pure things.

"I'll tear the dirty garment off (my) head there, (and) He will give
me a pure robe of honor once again.

"This is His work, and my work is the same. (And) the Adorner
of the world is "the Lord and Sustainer of the Universe!"5

If these impurities of our had not existed, the water would never
have had this exaltation.

210 It stole pouches of gold from someone6 (and then) runs in
each direction, saying, "Look here! Where is a penniless person?"

Either it scatters (gold)7 upon some grown plant, or it washes the
face of some unwashed face.8

Or it takes a ship upon its head,9 like a porter-- (a ship) helpless
in the seas.

A hundred thousand remedies (are) hidden in it,10 because every
remedy grows from it in this way.

The soul of every pearl (and) the heart of every grain11 goes into
the river (for healing) as (into) a drugstore.

215 There is nourishment from it for the orphans of the earth, (and)
there is movement from it for the dried-up ones who are chained
and bound.

When its measured amount no longer remains, it becomes murky;
it becomes fatigued, like us, on the earth.

How the water, after becoming murky, asks help from God, may
His Grandeur be glorified

It (then) raises up a wailing cry from within (itself): "O God! That
which You gave (me) I've given (away), and (now) I remain a
(poor) beggar.

"I scattered the (entire) stock upon (both) pure and the impure. O
King, (You are) the Giver of (all) assets: 'Are there any more?'"12

(God) said to the cloud, "Take (the water) to the place of delight.
(And) you also, O sun, draw up (the water) to the heights."

220 (God) drives it (along) various pathways so that He may bring
it to the limitless ocean.

But the aim of (mentioning) this water is (to symbolize) the spirit
of the saints,13 for it is something for washing (away) your muddy

When it becomes murky from washing14 the people of the earth, it
turns back to the Giver of Purity to the heavens.

(Then), dragging (its) robe (of honor), it brings back lessons from
that (lofty) direction-- about the holy purities of (God), the

From being mixed with the people, it obtains a weak condition.15
(And so) it seeks (to make) that journey (again, saying), "Revive
us, O Bilal!

225 "O melodious and sweet-toned Bilal,16 go up into the minaret
(and) pound the drum of departure for a journey!"17

While the body (is) in the standing (position of the prayer),18 the
spirit has gone on a journey. (And) at the time of (its) return, it
says (the greeting of) "Peace (be upon you)!"19 for this reason.

It frees all from (having to do) the ritual washing with sand,20 and
seekers of the prayer direction21 from choosing an intention.22

This parable is like an intermediary within (this) speech, (because)
an intermediary is a condition (needed) for the common people's

(For) without an intermediary no one can ever go into the fire--
except a salamander,23 who has escaped from (the need for a)

230 It's necessary for you to have the intermediary of the hot bath
so that your (bodily) nature may benefit from the fire.

Since you can't go (directly) into the fire, like Abraham,24 the hot
bath is your Prophet (and) the water (is) your guide.

(True) fullness is from God, yet the people preoccupied with soil25
will never reach satisfaction without the intermediary of bread.

(True) gracefulness is from God,26 yet the people the body won't
find subtle beauty without the (lovely) veil of the garden.

If the intermediary of the body were to cease, he would find the
light of the moon (shining) from (his) chest without (any) veil, like

235 The virtues of water are also witnesses that its inner (nature) is
full of the Grace of God.

--From "The Mathnawî-yé Ma`nawî" [Rhymed Couplets of
Deep Spiritual Meaning] of Jalaluddin Rumi.
Translated from the Persian by Ibrahim Gamard (with
gratitude for R. A. Nicholson's 1934 British translation)
Ibrahim Gamard (translation, footnotes, & transliteration)
First published on "Sunlight" (, 6/22/00

Notes on the text, with line number:

1. (199) from the starry heavens [simâk]: literally, "the Two Fishes,"
meaning two stars, one of which is Arcturus. This word was
chosen (rather than "from the clouds" or "sky") for the rhyme.

2. (200) and become dirty: Nicholson translated, "When the water
had done battle (in its task of ablution)..." This is because the
immediate meaning of this passage has to do with the ritual
ablutions required before the Islamic prayers can be performed.
The hands, face, arms, and feet are washed with clean water. This
is done with prayer, with the intention that impurities, both
outward and inward, may be removed. On a deeper level,
Nicholson explains: "The water is a type of the saintly spirit which,
when it is soiled through contact with human sin, renews its purity
by union with God." (Footnote)

3. (201) the Water: "i.e. God, from whom the saints derive their
power to purify the soul." (Nicholson, Commentary)

4. (203) a robe of honor: given as a reward to subjects by kings. It
consisted, at the least, of a robe, a turban, and a waist sash.

5. (208) the Lord and Sustainer of the Universe: "Praise be to God,
the Lord and Sustainer of the Universe" [literally, "of (all) the
worlds"] (Qur'an I: 2)

6. (210) from someone: "I.e. it received the treasure of Divine grace."
(Nicholson, footnote)

7. (211) it scatters (gold): Nicholson translated, "Either it sheds (the
treasure)..." He explained: "I.e. it endows the vegetable soul with
capacity for spiritual progress." (Footnote) This means that the
plant is graced with the opportunity to be eaten by an animal, so as
to become part of the next higher level, animality.

8. (211) it washes the face of some unwashed face: may refer to the
ritual ablutions made with water, required before the Islamic
prayers. See note above.

9. (212) it takes a ship upon its head: "I.e. it uplifts those who are
struggling with doubt and despair and bears them onward to
salvation." (Nicholson, footnote)

10. (213) A hundred thousand remedies (are) hidden in it: "As water is
the source of all material life (Qur. XXI 31[= "And We have made
every living thing from water"]), so the holy 'water" contains and
produces from itself every cure for spiritual maladies." (Nicholson,

11. (214) every pearl (and) the heart of every grain: "Durr [= pearl]
and dánah [= grain] may signify the enlightened and ignorant
respectively." (Nicholson, Commentary)

12. (218) "Are there any more?": from Qur'an 50:30.

13. (221) the spirits of the saints: means those holy souls who (whether
living or departed) remain in a state of nearness to God, and have
special powers of intercession, by the permission of God.

14. (222) washing [ghusl]: this word was added on the margin of the
earliest manuscript as a correction to the original word, "ghadr"--
treachery, villainy. Nicholson translated using the latter: "When it
is stained dark by (washing) the treason of the inhabitants of the

15. (224) a weak condition [i`tilâl]: In Tawfîq Subhânî's edition of the
earliest manuscript there appears to be a typographical error
("i`tidâl"-- moderation, equilibrium) which makes no sense in the
context of the verse. Nicholson's text, also based on the earliest
manuscript has "i`tilâl," which makes complete sense.

16. (225) Bilal [bilâl]: a favorite companion of the Prophet
Muhammad. Formerly a black slave owned by a cruel pagan Arab
master, he was the first Muslim to recite the call to prayer, by
which all Muslims within hearing distance perform the prayers five
times a day (God is Most Great! I bear witness that there is no
divinity but God! I bear witness that Muhammad is the Prophet of
God! Come to the prayer! Come to (spiritual) happiness! God is
Most Great! There is no divinity but God!). According to a
tradition, the Prophet selected Bilal for this task, because of the
latter's pleasant voice, and used to say when the time for prayers
approached, "O Bilal, revive us (with the call to prayer)!"
Nicholson explains this as meaning: "i.e. 'relieve us from the cares
of this world by chanting the adhán (call to prayer'." (Commentary)

17. (225) the drum of departure for a journey: refers to the Islamic
ritual prayer, which can allow the spirit to make a similar journey
from this world into Heaven as was made by the Prophet during his
Ascension [mi`râj].

18. (226) the standing (position of the prayer): refers to the start of the
prayer, when the praying person stands and makes the intention to
enter into the sacred time of prayer. From then on, the focus is on
being in the presence of God, and this state cannot be interrupted
by the distractions of this world until the prayer is completed. "On
the mystical significance of qiyám [= the standing posture], and the
other postures of the salát [= the ritual prayer], see III 2140-
2166..." (Nicholson, Commentary)

19. (226) Peace (be upon you): These are the words which are said to
end being in the sacred time of prayer, after which one can move
about and interact with other people as usual.

20. (227) the ritual washing with sand: if no water is available for the
ritual washing, Muslims may use clean sand (or pat a clean rock, if
no sand is available).

21. (227) the prayer direction [qibla]: the direction toward which all
Muslims pray-- toward Mecca, where the temple dedicated to pure
monotheism, called the Ka`ba, is located.

22. (227 choosing an intention: means that if water is available, no
intention of searching for nearby water is needed (after which sand
could be substituted). In the earliest manuscript, it is written on the
margin that this line should follow line 223 (rather than line 226,
where it is situated). Nicholson noted that "corrections made in the
two oldest MSS. suggest that it would be more apropos there."

23. (229) a salamander: "The salamander, which (according to Moslem
naturalists) 'usually lives in the fire', serves as a symbol for the
mystic whose perception of reality is intuitive." (Nicholson,
Commentary) Thus, the salamander was believed to have the
miraculous ability to be "at home" in fire, and needed no
intermediary or connecting link.

24. (231) into the fire, like Abraham: The Prophet Abraham was
thrown into fiery furnace for opposing polytheism, but God
protected him by commanding, "O fire, be coolness and a (place
of) safety for Abraham" (Qur'an 21:69).

25. (232) the people (preoccupied) with soil: means those who are
overly interested in material concerns. Bread is connected to the
soil, from being made from grain.

26. (233) (True) gracefulness is from God: Nicholson referred here to
Rumi's story of the sufi who contemplated the beauty of the garden
within his own heart (Mathnawi IV, starting at line 1358).

27. (234) like Moses: On the same occasion when God commanded
Moses to throw down his staff, which miraculously became a
snake, He also commanded him to press his hand into his side, and
his hand emerged shining white (Qur'an 7:108; 20: 22; 27: 12; 28:
32)-- symbolizing the gift of prophecy. Here, Rumi interprets that
it was the luminous whiteness within the chest of Moses, which
caused his hand to become white.


199 âb bahr-é în be-bârîd az simâk
tâ palîd-ân-râ kon-ad az khubS pâk

pâk kardan-é âb hama-yé palîdî-hâ-râ wa bâz pâk kardan
khodây-é ta`âlà âb-râ az palîdî, lâ-jaram quddûs âmad Haqq

200 âb chûn paygâr kard-o shod najis
tâ chon-ân shod k-âb-râ rad kard His

Haq bo-bord-ash bâz dar baHr-é Sawâb
tâ be-shost-ash az karam ân âb-ê âb

sâl-é dêgar âmad ô dâman-kashân
hay ko-jâ bûd-î? ba-daryây-é khwash-ân

man najis z-în-jâ shod-am, pâk âmad-am
be-s'tad-am khil`at sôy-é khâk âmad-am

hîn be-y-ây-îd ay palîd-ân sôy-é man
ke gereft az khôy-é yazdân khôy-é man

205 dar paZîr-am jumla-yé zeshtî-t-râ
chûn malak pâkî deh-am `ifrît-râ

chûn shaw-am âlûda, bâz ân-jâ raw-am
sôy-é aSl-é aSl-é pâkî-hâ raw-am

dalaq-é cherkîn bar kan-am ân-jâ ze-sar
khil`at-é pâk-am deh-ad bâr-ê degar

kâr-é ô în-ast-o kâr-é man ham-în
`âlam-ârây-ast rabbu 'l-`âlamîn

gar na-bûdy în palîdî-hây-é mâ
kay body în bâr-nâma âb-râ?

210 kîsa-hây-é zar be-dozdîd az kasê
me-raw-ad har sô ke hîn, kô muflisê?

yâ be-rêz-ad bar geyâh-é rosta-yê
yâ be-shôy-ad rôy-é rô-nâ-shosta-yê

yâ be-gîr-ad bar sar ô, hammâl-wâr
kashtiy-é bê-dast-o pâ-râ dar biHâr

Sad hazâr-ân dârô andar way nehân
z-ân-ke har dârô be-rôy-ad z-ô chon-ân

jân-é har dorrê, del-é har dâna-yê
mê-raw-ad dar jô chô dârô-khâna-yê

215 z-ô yatîm-ân-é zamîn-râ parwaresh
basta-gân-é khoshk-râ az way rawesh

chûn na-mân-ad mâya-ash, têra shaw-ad
ham-chô mâ andar zamîn khêra shaw-ad

ist`ânat âb az Haqq-- jalla jalâlu-hu-- ba`d az têra shodan

nâla az bâTin bar âr-ad k-ay khodâ
ân-che dâr-î, dâd-am-o mând-am gadâ

rêkht-am sarmâya bar pâk-o palîd
ay shah-é sarmâya-deh hal min mazîd?

abr-râ gôy-ad bo-bar jây-é khwash-ash
ham tô khworshîd-â ba-bâlâ bar kash-ash

220 râh-hây-é mukhtalif mê-rând-ash
tâ rasân-ad sôy-é baHr-é bê-Had-ash

khwad gharaZ z-în âb jân-é awliyâ-st
k-ô ghasûl-é têragî-hây-é shomâ-st

chûn shaw-ad têra ze-ghusl-é ahl-é farsh
bâz gard-ad sôy-é pâkî-bakhsh-é `arsh

bâz âr-ad z-ân Taraf dâman-kashân
az Tahârât-é muHîT ô dars-eshân

z-ikhtilâT-é khalq yâb-ad i`tilâl
ân safar jôy-ad ke ariH-nâ yâ bilâl

225 ay bilâl-é khwash-nawây-é khwash-Sahîl
mîZana bar raw, be-zan Tabl-é raHîl

jân safar raft-o badan andar qiyâm
waqt-é rij`at z-în sabab gôy-ad salâm

az tayammum wâ rahân-ad jomla-râ
w-az taHarri Tâlib-ân-é qibla-râ

în mathal chûn wâsiTa-st andar kalâm
wâsiTa sharT-ast bahr-é fahm-é `âm

andar âtesh kay raw-ad bê-wâsiTa
joz samandar, k-ô rahîd az râbiTa?

230 wâsiTa-yé Hammâm bây-ad mar to-râ
tâ ze-âtesh khwash kon-î tô Tab`-râ

chûn na-tân-î shod dar âtesh chûn khalîl
gasht Hammâm-at rasûl, âb-at dalîl

sêrî az Haqq-ast lêk ahl-é Taba`
kay ras-ad bê-wâsiTa-yé nân dar shiba`?

luTf az Haqq-ast, lêkin ahl-é tan
dar na-yâb-ad luTf bê-parda-yé chaman

chûn na-mân-ad wâsiTa-yé tan bê-Hijâb
ham-chô mûsà nûr-é mah yâb-ad ze-jayb

235 în honar-hâ âb-râ ham shâhid-ast
k-andarûn-ash por ze-luTf-é îzad-ast

(mathnawi meter: XoXX XoXX XoX)