Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Simurgh in Kashmir

A couple of days ago Man Mohan Ji sent me this wonderful painting.

The originally Persian mythical bird, Simurgh, holding fast nine elephants symbolizing lower constituents of the partial self. Kangra school, 19th century. Gouache on paper.
I came across stories of Simurgh a couple of times while reading things about Kashmir. And interestingly in these stories Simurgh was a very lose term that was easily applied to many kind of  mythical birds.

The story titled 'Good King Hatam', narrated to Reverend James Hinton Knowles by a barber of Amira Kadal named Qadir, revolves around a golden egg-laying bird Huma. In the footnote to the story Knowles tells us that Huma is 'A fabulous bird of happy omen peculiar to the East. It haunts the mountain Qaf. It is supposed that every head it overshadows will wear a crown. The Arabs call it 'anqa' and the Persians simgh (lit. of the size of thirty birds).'


Another story about Kashmir and Simurgh comes all the way from ancient China.
 
According to a Chinese legend, a king of Kashmir named Chi-pin caught a Simurgh and caged it, but the bird never sang a single note for three years (in an Indian original the bird would be a kalavinka , a melodious songbird). The king's wife then tells him that Simurghs only sing when they see their own kind, so the king deceives the bird by putting a mirror in its cage. Mistaking its own reflection for the lost mate, Simurgh sings a mournful song and dies. The story about the "single simurgh" (ku-luan) is from Liu Ching-shu's Garden of Anomalies (I-yilan). *


* from 'The age of Eternal Brilliance: Three Lyric Poets of the Yung-ming Era' (Richard B. Mather, Yue Shen, Tiao Xie, Rong Wang ) and 'The oceanic feeling: the origins of religious sentiment in ancient India' (Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson)

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