Simurgh: Wikis

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Sassanid silk twill textile of a simurgh in a beaded surround, 6-7th c. CE

Simurgh (Persian: سیمرغ), also spelled simorgh, simurg or simoorg, also known as Angha (Persian: عنقا), is the modern Persian name for a fabulous, benevolent, mythical flying creature. The figure can be found in all periods of Greater Iranian art and literature, and is evident also in the iconography of medieval Azerbaijan, Byzantium and other regions that were within the sphere of Persian cultural influence.

The name simurgh derives from Middle Persian Pahlavi sēnmurw[1][2] (and earlier sēnmuruγ), also attested in Middle Persian Pāzand as sīna-mrū. The Middle Persian term derives in turn from Avestan mərəγō Saēnō "the bird Saēna", originally a raptor, likely an eagle, falcon or sparrowhawk, as can be deduced from the etymological cognate Sanskrit śyenaḥ "raptor, eagle, bird of prey" that also appears as a divine figure. Saēna is also a personal name which is root of the name.

Contents

Mythology

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Form and function

Sassanid silver plate of a simurgh (Sēnmurw), 7-8th c. CE

The simurgh is depicted in Iranian art as a winged creature in the shape of a bird, gigantic enough to carry off an elephant or a whale. It appears as a kind of peacock with the head of a dog and the claws of a lion; sometimes however also with a human face. The simurgh is inherently benevolent and unambiguously female. Being part mammal, she suckles her young. The simurgh has teeth. It has an enmity towards snakes and its natural habitat is a place with plenty of water. Its feathers are said to be the colour of copper, and though it was originally described as being a Dog-Bird, later it was shown with either the head of a man or a dog.

"Si-", the first element in the name, has been connected in folk etymology to Modern Persian si "thirty". Although this prefix is not historically related to the origin of the name simurgh, "thirty" has nonetheless been the basis for legends incorporating that number, for instance, that the simurgh was as large as thirty birds or had thirty colours (siræng).

Iranian legends consider the bird so old that it had seen the destruction of the World three times over. The simurgh learned so much by living so long that it is thought to possess the knowledge of all the Ages. In one legend, the simurgh was said to live 1,700 years before plunging itself into flames (much like the phoenix).

The simurgh was considered to purify the land and waters and hence bestow fertility. The creature represented the union between the earth and the sky, serving as mediator and messenger between the two. The simurgh roosted in Gaokerena, the Hōm (Avestan: Haoma) Tree of Life, which stands in the middle of the world sea Vourukhasa. The plant is potent medicine, is called all-healing, and the seeds of all plants are deposited on it. When the simurgh took flight, the leaves of the tree of life shook making all the seeds of every plant to fall out. These seeds floated around the world on the winds of Vayu-Vata and the rains of Tishtrya, in cosmology taking root to become every type of plant that ever lived, and curing all the illnesses of mankind.

The relationship between the simurgh and Hōm is extremely close. Like the simurgh, Hōm is represented as a bird, a messenger and as the essence of purity that can heal any illness or wound. Hōm - appointed as the first priest - is the essence of divinity, a property it shares with the simurgh. The Hōm is in addition the vehicle of farr(ah) (MP: khwarrah, Avestan: khvarenah, kavaēm kharēno) "[divine] glory" or "fortune". Farrah in turn represents the divine mandate that was the foundation of a king's authority.

A modern-day representation of The Conference of the Birds by Iranian painter Bahram Alivandi. c.1980s, Vienna, Private Collection.

It appears as a bird resting on the head or shoulder of would-be kings and clerics, so indicating Ormuzd's acceptance of that individual as His divine representative on earth. For the commoner, Bahram wraps fortune/glory "around the house of the worshipper, for wealth in cattle, like the great bird Saena, and as the watery clouds cover the great mountains" (Yasht 14.41, cf. the rains of Tishtrya above). Like the simurgh, farrah is also associated with the waters of Vourukasha (Yasht 19.51,.56-57). In Yašt 12.17 Simorgh's (Saēna’s) tree stands in the middle of the sea Vourukaša, it has good and potent medicine, is called all-healing, and the seeds of all plants are deposited on it.

Monument of Ferdowsi on the square carrying his name in Tehran. At the feet of the poet the heroes of his epic Shahnameh: future hero Zal and bird Simurgh.

In the Shahnameh

The Simurgh made its most famous appearance in the Ferdowsi's epic Shahname (Book of Kings), where its involvement with the Prince Zal is described. According to the Shahname, Zal, the son of Saam, was born albino. When Saam saw his albino son, he assumed that the child was the spawn of devils, and abandoned the infant on the mountain Alborz.

The child's cries were carried to the ears of the tender-hearted Simurgh, who lived on top this peak, and she retrieved the child and raised him as her own. Zal was taught much wisdom from the loving Simurgh, who has all knowledge, but the time came when he grew into a man and yearned to rejoin the world of men. Though the Simurgh was terribly saddened, she gifted him with three golden feathers which he was to burn if he ever needed her assistance.

Upon returning to his kingdom, Zal fell in love and married the beautiful Rudaba. When it came time for their son to be born, the labor was prolonged and terrible; Zal was certain that his wife would die in labour. Rudabah was near death when Zal decided to summon the simurgh. The simurgh appeared and instructed him upon how to perform a cesarean section thus saving Rudabah and the child, who became one of the greatest Persian heroes, Rostam. Simurgh also shows up in the story of the Seven Trials of Esfandiar and the story of Rostam and Esfandiar.

In Azeri folklore

Simurgh also goes by the name of Zumrud (emerald). It was an ancient tale about Malik Mehmed, the son of one of the wealthiest kings of Azerbaijan. That king had a big garden. In the center of this garden is a magical apple tree which yields apples every day. One ugly giant called Dev decides to steal all the apples every night. The king sends Malik Mehmed and his elder brothers fight the giant. In the middle of this tale Malik Mehmed saves Simurgh's babies from a dragon. Simurgh takes pleasure of Malik Mehmed and decides to help him. When Malik Mehmed wants to pass form The Dark world into the Light world Simurgh asks him to provide 40 half carcasses of meat and 40 wineskin filled with water. When Simurgh puts water on its left wing and meat on its right wing Malik Mehmed is able to enter the Light world.

In Sufi poetry

Decoration outside of Nadir Divan-Beghi madrasah, Bukhara

In classical and modern Persian literature the Simorḡ is frequently mentioned, particularly as a metaphor for God in Sufi mysticism. In the 12th century Conference of the Birds, Iranian Sufi poet Farid ud-Din Attar wrote of a band of pilgrim birds in search of the Simurgh. According to the poet's tale, the Simurgh has thirty holes in her beak and drew the wind through them whenever she was hungry. Animals heard a pretty music and gathered at the peak of a mountain where they were eaten by the Simurgh. Through cultural assimilation the Simurgh was introduced to the Arabic-speaking world, where the concept was conflated with other Arabic mythical birds such as the Ghoghnus and developed as the Rukh (the origin of the English word "Roc").

In Kurdish folklore

Simurgh is shortened to Sīmīr in the Kurdish language.[2] The scholar Trever quotes two Kurdish folktales about the bird.[2] These versions go back to the common stock of Iranian Simorḡ stories[2]. In one of the folk tales, a hero rescues Simurgh's off-springs by killing a snake that is crawling up the tree to feed upon them. As a reward Sīmīr(Simurgh) gives him three of her feathers; which the hero can call for help by burning them. Later the hero uses the feathers, and Simurgh carries him to a distant land. In the other tale, Simurgh carries the hero out of the netherworld; here Simurgh feeds its young with its teats, a trait which agrees with the description of the Simurgh in the Middle Persian book of Zdspram. In another tale, Simurgh feeds the hero on the journey while the hero feeds Simirugh with pieces of sheep’s fat.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ A. Jeroussalimskaja, "Soieries sassanides", Splendeur des sassanides: l'empire perse entre Rome et la Chine (Brussels, 1993) pp. 114, 117f, points out that the spelling senmurv, is incorrect (noted by David Jacoby, "Silk Economics and Cross-Cultural Artistic Interaction: Byzantium, the Muslim World, and the Christian West", Dumbarton Oaks Papers 58 (2004:197-240) p. 212 note 82.
  2. ^ a b c d Hanns-Peter Schmidt,"Simorgh" in Encyclopedia Iranica

References

External links

  • Simorq: A Music Project.
  • A short section of the Simorq Opera, video-recorded during a rehearsal in Tehran, December 2009: [1] (5 min 32 sec).
  • Bahār Navāi, Simourgh from Shahnameh to Opera, in Persian, Jadid Online, 9 November 2009, [2].
    Simorgh Reborn in Music, in English (an abridged version of the above article), Jadid Online, 26 November 2009, [3].
    • An audio slideshow of the composer of the Simourgh Opera, Hamid Motebassem, speaking (with English subtitles): [4].

Wiktionary

Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

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Contents

English

File:Saena.jpg
A Sassanid silver plate of a Simorgh

Alternative spellings

  • Simorgh

Etymology

From Persian سیمرغ (simorq).

Proper noun

Singular
Simurgh

Plural
-

Simurgh

  1. (in Persian legend) A gigantic winged benevolent creature.

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