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Painting of Prince Zal with the Simurgh in Ferdowsi's epic Shahnameh.
GroupingMythical creature
Similar entitiesPhoenix
FolklorePersian mythology
CountryAncient Iran

The Simurgh (/sɪˈmɜːrɡ/; Persian: سیمرغ) is a Kind bird in old Persian stories. People sometimes compare it to other mythic birds like the Phoenix and the Huma, but it is different and special in its own way.[1] This mythical bird is found in old stories and pictures from Iran, Georgia, Pakistan, and other places that were influenced by Persian culture.[2][3][4]

Name[change | change source]

The word "sīmurğ" (سیمرغ) in Persian comes from an older Persian word "sēnmurw". This old word comes from another ancient language called Avestan, where it was "mərəγō Saēnō". Later, this word was taken into Armenian as "siramarg," which means 'peacock'.[5][6]

On another topic, the phrase "sī murğ" (سی مرغ) in Persian means "thirty birds." A famous Sufi poet named Attar of Nishapur used this phrase in his story "The Conference of the Birds," where it is used in a fun way within the story.[7]

Mythology[change | change source]

The Simurgh is a mythical animal shown in old Iranian painting. It looks like a big bird with giant wings that can carry an elephant or whale. In the paintings, it might have a peacock's body, a dog's head, and lion claws, or sometimes even a person's face. The Simurgh is known for being gentle and is thought to be a female. It is like a mix of different animals because it feeds its babies milk and has teeth. It does not like snakes and lives where there is lots of water. People say its feathers are copper-colored, and even though it was first described as part dog, later pictures show it with either a human or dog head.[8]

The first part of its name, "Si-," might come from the Persian word for "thirty." But the real reason for its name is not about the number thirty. However, in stories, they say the Simurgh is as big as thirty birds or has thirty colors. Some say its name comes from old words like "sin murgh" meaning "eagle bird" in Pahlavi or "saeno merego", which means "eagle" in Avestan.[9][6]

Mosaic detail at the Nadir Divan-begi Madrasah in Bukhara, Uzbekistan.

In old stories from Iran, the Simurgh is very ancient and has seen the world get destroyed three times. People believe it knows everything from all times. One story says the Simurgh lived for 1,700 years before burning itself, kind of like the phoenix does. The Simurgh is all about making the land and water clean, showing how Earth and sky are connected, and carrying messages between them. It makes its home in Gaokerena, a special tree that spreads seeds to grow healing plants for people.[10]

The Simurgh and Hōm are close, both shown as birds that make things pure and can heal. Hōm is like a symbol of a king's power, while the Simurgh is a sign of approval from the gods, sitting on the heads of kings and holy people.[11][12]

The Simurgh is shown a lot in Ferdowsi's Shahnameh, where it looks after a prince named Zal, who was born with albinism and gives him smart advice. Zal later asks the Simurgh for help when his wife Rudaba is having a tough time giving birth. This shows how nice and important the Simurgh is in Persian stories. Also, the Simurgh is in a story about Esfandiyar's Seven Challenges, where it fights Esfandiyar but ends up losing, even though it is really powerful.[13][14]

In Sufism[change | change source]

Simurgh returning to nest to Zal and its chicks (detail). —"Zal is Sighted by a Caravan" (Tahmasp Shahnamah, fol. 62v), Sackler Gallery LTS1995.2.46

In Persian stories, the simurgh is like a symbol for God in a special kind of thinking called Sufi mysticism. In a story from the 12th century called "The Conference of the Birds" by poet Farid ud-Din Attar, there are birds looking for the simurgh. Each bird stands for a different human problem, and they are trying to find the simurgh because they think it is their leader. They are led by a smart hoopoe bird and they eventually find where the simurgh is supposed to live, but all they see is a lake reflecting themselves. This story uses a funny Persian wordplay about "thirty birds" (si morgh).[15]

Another Persian poet named Rumi talks about the simurgh in his writing, connecting it to a place called Mount Qaf.[16] The idea of the simurgh also went into Arabic stories and mixed with other mythic birds like the ghoghnus, becoming something called the rukh, which later influenced the English word "roc." Early artworks and coins from a long time ago, from a group called the Umayyads, showed pictures of the simurgh because they were mixing different cultures together.[17]

References[change | change source]

  1. Cirlot, J. C. (2006-10-19). Dictionary of Symbols. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-134-95890-0.
  2. Lafontaine-Dosogne, Jacqueline (1965). "Nouvelles églises rupestres de Cappadoce: Région de Hasan Daǧi. Nicole Thierry , Michel Thierry". Speculum. 40 (3): 555–557. doi:10.2307/2850957. ISSN 0038-7134.
  3. Nizam, Muhammad Huzaifa. "Chitrali Mythology". World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2024-02-05.
  4. Nair, Nitten (2022-09-09). "Simurgh : The Giant Bird". Mythlok. Retrieved 2024-02-05.
  5. Wright, J. C. (1990). "Manfred Mayrhofer: Etymologisches Wörterbuch des Altindoarischen, 1, Lieferungen 1–6. (Indogermanische Bibliothek, II. Reihe: Wörterbücher.) [iii], 1–76; 77–156; 157–236; 237–316; 317–396; 397–476. Heidelberg: Carl Winter Universitätsverlag, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1988, 1989, 1989". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. 53 (3): 534–536. doi:10.1017/s0041977x0015164x. ISSN 0041-977X.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Foundation, Encyclopaedia Iranica. "Welcome to Encyclopaedia Iranica". Retrieved 2024-02-05.
  7. "The Conference Of The Birds – 9780140444346". Retrieved 2024-02-05.
  8. Saboowala, Dr Hakim (2020-11-25). A Medical Essay of History of Medical Symbols: Asclepius, Caduceus & Simurgh as Medical Symbols. Dr.Hakim Saboowala.
  9. Dasef, Marva (2009-11-24). Quest for the Simurgh. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. ISBN 978-1-4499-0236-0.
  10. Rosen, Brenda (2009). The Mythical Creatures Bible: The Definitive Guide to Legendary Beings Volume 14. Sterling Publishing Company, Inc. ISBN 978-1-4027-6536-0.
  11. Chwalkowski, Farrin (2016-12-14). Symbols in Arts, Religion and Culture: The Soul of Nature. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4438-5728-4.
  12. Ward, William Hayes (1910). The Seal Cylinders of Western Asia. Carnegie Institution of Washington. ISBN 978-0-598-36290-2.
  13. Ferdowsi, Abolqasem (2016-03-08). Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings. Penguin. ISBN 978-1-101-99323-1.
  14. Laird, Elizabeth (2014-12-16). Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings. Lincoln Children's Books. ISBN 978-1-84780-497-6.
  15. Dabashi, Hamid (2012-11-20). The World of Persian Literary Humanism. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-06759-2.
  16. Whinfield, E.H. (2001). Masnavi i Ma’navi (PDF). Ames, Iowa: Omphaloskepsis. p. 468. Retrieved 5 February 2024.
  17. Compareti, Matteo. "The State of Research on Sasanian Painting".