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Subject  :  Another look at the Simorgh, if you can stand it
Author  :  +Kenneth Thompson+
Date  :  09-15-2000 on 06:07 p.m.
/wkthompson@aol.com/ Dear All, I would like to re-introduce the Simorgh as a possible source of inspiration for the Baluchi bird. Before everyone groans that this issue was beaten to death in Salon 43, consider the following. For a creature to become an icon (commercial appeal aside), it must have an obvious meaning not only to the weaver but also to the surrounding culture at large. Assuming that the Baluchi bird is more than just an attractive shape, we should look to the mythology and oral tradition of the area. The simorgh (or simurgh) certainly has long history in Persia, especially in the eastern part. Although it is an old, pre-Islamic creature, its written history comes from the 11th and 13th centuries. The principal sources of information on the Simorgh in the Islamic period seem to have been Ferdowsi (c 1000 CE) and Attar (c 1200). Both writers came from greater Khorasan, the Baluchis’ region. Ferdowsi, who wrote about the Simorgh in the "Shahname," the Persian national epic, was born in 940 CE in Toos, 30 Km from Mashhad. Farid od-Din Attar, author of the Sufi "The Conference of the Birds," was born in Nishapur around 1150 CE. Each writer put the Simorgh into a different context, which may account for confusion about some aspects of this mythical creature. In the Shahname, which records oral traditions, the Simorgh is a phoenix-like creature living atop Mt. Elburz. I avoid saying specifically bird, because it may have been the sort of hybrid bird (e.g. the hippogryff) that abounds in myths. In any case, it had prominent red tail feathers. The Simorgh rescues the baby Zal, father of the Persian national hero Rostam, from death by exposure on the slopes of Mt. Elburz. (presumbly the Elburz northeast of Tehran.) The Simorgh brings up Zal in its nest and thereby preserves the Persian royal line. The Simorgh’s prominent tail feathers are not only salient, but its most magical attribute. When burned, they summon the Simorgh for emergency assistance. Zal uses one for calling the Simorgh to perform a caesarian on Rostam’s mother so that Rostam can survive to lead the Persians. The geographical setting is in Eastern Persian/Afghanistan, as Zal’s father is King of “Zabolistan”, presumably the area around Zabol. In the Attar allegory, a group of birds sets off in search of the Simorgh, said to be a “super-Bird”, to be their king. The fly an ordeal-path through seven valleys, after which their number is reduced to thirty. At that point, they discover that they, thirty (Si) birds (Morgh) as a flock, are the Superbird that none could be as an individual. The birds are supposed represent the individual enlightened Sufis, who together become divine wisdom greater than its constituent parts. The literature says that Attar’s poem was immensely popular through the Eastern Islamic world. The Simorgh shows up as the Zumrudu-anka in Turkey and as the Anqa in the Arab world. One hypothesis is that the Baluchi bird is a fusion of both these concepts. Both authors come from "Baluchi territory." If one can believe the literature, the simorgh legend would have been sufficiently widespread in the folk knowledge of the region for it to have had common recognition. The prominent tail feathers would have been an important clue in any depiction. But there is also the “many-within-one” aspect of the Attar “Conference of the Birds” allegory. The birds I have on Baluchi bagfaces all have latch-hooked diamonds in their interior, as if we were looking at an xray of the contents of the bird. Could these stand for the si (thirty) morgh (birds) that constitute the whole? There is an even clearer depiction of this concept in a large calligraphic drawing of the Simorgh in the Topkapi collection, showing a large fanciful bird with lots of stylized smaller creatures inside it waiting to burst forth. Unfortunately, it isn’t in any catalog, but those of you who visited the Corcoran exhibition may remember it. I am hardly an Islamic scholar and realize this is just another piece of speculation. I can't defend it much further than by what is set forth above, but it is at least anchored to specific texts and concepts. Since this is already so long, I am not including footnotes, but here are a couple of URLs for those who want to explore. Best regards, Ken PS If you want a Caucasian connection for the Kaitag bird, there is a Mt. Elbrus in Kabardino-Balkaria on the Georgian border. Suppose this were the Mt. Elburz…? http://www.elbrus.org/maps/maps.htm http://www.netiran.com/Htdocs/Clippings/Social/980301XXSO01.html http://www.elbrus.org/maps/kavkpol.gif http://www.theosophy-nw.org/theosnw/world/mideast/mi-homa.htm http://www-instruct.nmu.edu/english/zthundy/chaosandct.html http://www.farsinet.com/mashhad/neyshabur.html http://www.princeton.edu/~jwc/shahnameh/illustration.html http://knight3.cit.ics.saitama-u.ac.jp/hobbies/iran/Shahnameh/shahnameh_ch03.html (archaic translation of relevant section)

Subject  :  RE:Another look at the Simorgh, if you can stand it
Author  :  Vincent Keers
Date  :  09-15-2000 on 07:51 p.m.
Dear all, Mr.Thomson gives it the correct perspective. This leads us to: Central Asia: Samarkand 6/7th century and before. The silk routes and crossroads of Greek, Roman, Sasanid and Chinees(Bhuddist), Indian cultures. I'm looking to the east again (a harmless habit). The image shows Sasanid dress 6/7th century in Samarkand. How did the Turkman, Beloudch etc. come in Afghanistan, Iran? Becaus the Huns, the Sasanids and b.c. Alexander the Great etc. etc. made their way of living as Nomads in Central Asia very difficult. I think these nomads, took notice of the cultures inbetween they were living. Islam wasn't there. Mazdean influance, Bhuddist, Jewish and the universal belief in Dragons, Thundering gods, Snakes, etc. Dreamland. The Sasanid dress shows a Senmurv, a beast I sometimes encounter in my dreams. So did my ancestors etc. etc. The Beloudch birds, aren't birds as we see them. They are much more, and a relic from Dreamland. But, helas we can't make money in Central Asia. No oil. The water has gone, the culture has gone, so what's new. I didn't post the 14th century "Indios" (as Columbus misnamed the Native Americans) grave-dolls only because off the birds. Best regards, Vincent Keers

Subject  :  RE:Another look at the Simorgh, if you can stand it
Author  :  Steve Price
Date  :  09-16-2000 on 06:21 p.m.
sprice@hsc.vcu.edu Dear Friends, This image is the one to which Vincent refers in the prvious post.
Steve Price

Subject  :  RE:Another look at the Simorgh, if you can stand it
Author  :  Deschuyteneer Daniel
Date  :  09-16-2000 on 08:21 p.m.
Dear Steve and you all, Even if I like this Salon I can't be of great help. I just want to add that the Senmurv figure in Islamic art is also discussed in Orient Stars page 346. Thanks Ken for this interesting thread. Best, Daniel

Subject  :  RE:Another look at the Simorgh, if you can stand it
Author  :  Vincent Keers
Date  :  09-20-2000 on 10:05 p.m.
vkeers@worldonline.nl Dear all, In order to be complete, here's a Greek/Corinthic "olpe" 6th c. B.C. It is established that the Greeks had a very Oriëntal style in this period. In this period, there were no Sassanides around, they came 800 years later. The Turkman/Belouch ancestors lived in Central Asia.

Subject  :  RE:Another look at the Simorgh, if you can stand it
Author  :  Vincent Keers
Date  :  09-22-2000 on 12:55 p.m.
vkeers@worldonline.nl Dear all,
The Afshan design here is in co-existence with the "Lilies" Karagashli design. I think there is a strong connection between the Afshan, Karagashli, Turkman/Belouch, Upper India and China design. It's a feast to see the Daghestan embroidery "Winged Beasts" compared with the Schürmann rug. If the Beatle design is cut vertically, I see starting at the bottom: Two legs, and a three pointed tail, a wing, a head. There's another creature on top of the Beast, head down, as if in combat. Then there's the swastika design. In the Karagashli and the Afshan design it's floral and static, because two "wings" are turned in a different direction. In the embroideries it's rotating, like the Chinese swastika. Only the swastika is rotating to the right, and the embroidery design is rotating to the left. I think some of you know more about the supernatural belief which accompanied the embroideries. I think we have to look at the rotating direction. Right rotation for the cycle of life? Left rotating with death because of the Goddess Kali in Upper India? Best regards, Vincent Keers

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