Maryam Akhondy — the voice of humanism interprets Omar Khayyam

On the occasion of the finissage of the “Servus and Salam – an insight to Iran” exhibition here in Munich, the great music singer Maryam Akhondy with her ensemble Barbad gave a concert in the Maximilian church. A strong voice, for which the term Diva would be approbiate, also she is anything else than diva-like. Her music and her very special kind of humor for me was the only valid interpretation of the Omar Khayyams poetry.
When I read his rubbayat (naturally in the famous english translation by Fitzgerald) I was always touched by the wisdom, fine lyrics and human feelings that emanate from them. A very free author, great scientist, amazing spirit and precise observer put down in words how he saw his life, the pressure from the society, his love for beauty and for human desires, and all this about one thousand years ago in a poetic language that seems very clear, not modern, but of an ever lasting diction.

A while ago, however, I started to worry, if my unconditioned excitement by Omar Khayyams poetry might be the result of a very naiv misinterpretation. A friend of mine, a persian book-seller and philologist recommended to read Paramahansa Yogananda “The wine of the mystic”, in which the author claim to provide the only valid interpretation (or better called decryption) of Omar Khayyams rubbayat. So for each 4-line rubbayat, Yogananda writes about 3 pages interpretation. Already in the introduction, the authors warns us that each time that Omar Khayyam mentions “Wine”, he refers to the “Divine Spirit”. Similarly, when Omar Khayyam writes about “Love to Girl”, Yogananda wants us to believe that this means nothing more than “Love to the divine spirit”. For me, this so-called spiritual interpretation of Omar Khayyams rubbayat is nothing more than a violent misinterpretation, a unsuccesful attempt to clear his most beautiful, human and real eternal poetry of all value and of all its real spirit.
Yoganandas book is a bad example of the attempt to misuse a former great piece of literature for religious hypocracy, be it christian, islamic or this yoga-guru style of Yogananda (he later founded an organisation of Self-Realization Fellowship, which in my view is a religious cult like a million others, with the ambition to be in possession of the final truth).
Eventhough I immediately developed a strong antipathy for this “modern” spiritual interpretation of Omar Khayyams lyrics, there was one strong argument. Yogananda was able to read Omar Khayyam as the original persian text, therefore claiming that his spiritual interpretaion is more authentic than the secular western ones (beginning by the english translation of Fitzgerald and later by the german version of Rosen). Yogananda complained that all western readers simply valued Omar Khayyam by the wrong idea that he praises love, wine and the beauty of the world in the way we used to do it in the west. Unfortunately, this was a strong argument, although for Yogananda Persian was a foreign language as well. It might even be that he did his “modern-spiritual” interpretation based on Fitzgeralds english translation as well, rather than reading the original text. Yogananda spoke hindi, and there are quite many similarities betwenn Hindi and Persian, two indo-european languages.

But to my greatest relieve, Maryam Akhondy, a true persian, a modern singer, a woman that does not need to attract followers like a guru, she obviously interpreted Omar Khayyam, one of the greatest representatives of classical persian poetry, in the same modern and human manner as I intuitively read his rubbayat. For me, Maryam Akhondys songs are the only valid interpretation of Omar Khayyam, but for the best and dedicated readers, his poetry is completely self-explained. Omar Khayyam does not need gurus (like Yogananda) who try to build an ideology around his beautiful and clear lyrics.

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