Dancing at Suresnes, at the home of Hazrat Inayat Khan in Paris
Robert and I were very privileged to be invited to Paris in February, to lead a weekend Dance Retreat at Fazal Manzil, the house which Hazrat Inayat Khan chose to be his home in Europe.
The house stands in a suburb of Paris known as Suresnes, on a hillside to the North East of the centre. Apparently he took his time in choosing the area where he wanted to live, because he felt that the atmosphere was very important. Suresnes was known as an area where mystics and hermits had chosen to live centuries ago, and it still retains a peaceful atmosphere, despite nowadays being very much part of the city of Paris. The house stands in a quiet back street, a short walk from busy thoroughfares with shops, cafes, buses and traffic, yet once inside the high wall surrounding the garden, one is in a different world, unaware of noise and bustle.
We arrived at the gates of the garden on foot at dusk, having traveled by bus and the Metro from the Gare du Nord. We were greeted by the ‘caretaker’ who then let us find our own way through the garden, past the luminous shape of the ‘Universel’, looking like an upturned lily, and on to the house itself.
We were the first to arrive, so the glazed workshop space was in darkness. It was a magical moment as we stepped over the threshold into the room where we could dimly make out Persian rugs on the floor, a collection of large houseplants, and a strangely familiar chair. But there is something about the energy of this place, and it is not possible to capture it in words…like coming home perhaps. Hard to believe that we were in the place where so much of Hazrat Inayat Khan’s teaching was given, and where he raised his family. We snoozed on the sofa before pictures of the Pir O’ Murshid and his daughter Noor until our host arrived after her day’s work, and then a wonderful weekend of dances and sharing food together began.
I found it so moving to be in the house where Murshid had lived with his family. I was struck by how the atmosphere reminded me of the Dargah in Delhi, where he is buried, which I have been lucky enough to visit. Maybe this is really an echo of the energy of the man himself.
Since the weekend I have felt inspired by a connection to the place and to the lineage of Hazrat Inayat Khan and to Sufism which had so far eluded me. Something about being at Fazal Manzil has done this – a true pilgrimage.
The group of dancers were wonderful, so enthusiastic, and many having traveled from as far away as Spain. Even those living in Paris were a truly diverse group, including two Berber women, from Tunisia and Morocco, and a man from Mexico. We danced with passion and tenderness.
After the retreat was over, Dora and Dominique took us on a tour of central Paris by night, in the mist and snow. We even had our photos taken at the Eiffel Tower! And then they took us to their favourite vegetarian restaurant – a real treat in Paris, as you can imagine.
We have been invited to return early next year and we can’t wait to breathe in the atmosphere of the place once again.
Jilani Cordelia Prescott and Robert Orange