Funda on Fanah

Guest Blog 4 – Anand Chandrasekharan

Just like a book on Oprah’s list suddenly sees sales go through the roof, words used in a Rahman song suddenly come find themselves in vogue. Fanah may have come into popular conversation that way, but it actually has both spiritual and philosophical meaning in Islam.

One of the early Islamic writers (Ghazzali) used Fanah in the Ihya to refer to self-actualization, in a Buddhistic Nirvana Sense. In the state of Fanah, the individual loses the person in the temporal world. This kind of writing met with opposition from some interpreters, who claimed that such a moral world had never existed except in the Quran.

The general theme of the song, that love leads to a higher plane (a la Piravi pizhai, kadhal thirutham) resonates with Ghazzali’s writings, which says that an understanding and following of the Tawhidi in daily life, leads to the state of Fanah.

There you have it! When Vairamuthu says Yakkai thiri, Kadhal Sudar (My body the wick, your love the flame!), we know nothing can follow but Fanah!… It probably also explains why, this is one of those rare occasions when it’s hard to come up with a single word in Tamil which conveys the same meaning (and hence the Urdu word is re-used in the Tamil version).