The Simurgh is the modern Persian name for a fabulous, benevolent, mythical flying creature.
The simurgh was thought to purify the land/water, and hence bestow fertility. The creature represented the union between the Earth and the sky, serving as mediator and messenger between the two.
It is potentially one of the legends that inspired the Roc/Rukh, when the tales reached Arabia.
Myths & Legends
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).
In one of the Kurdish folk tales, a hero rescues Simurgh's offspring by killing a snake that was crawling up the tree to feed upon them. As a reward, the Simurgh gives him three of her feathers which the hero can use to call for her help by burning them. Later, the hero uses the feathers, and the Simurgh carries him to a distant land.
It may also appear upon the head or shoulders of kings and clerics, showing their divine appointment.
Conference of the Birds
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. In the poem, the birds of the world gather to decide who is to be their king, as they have none. The hoopoe, the wisest of them all, suggests that they should find the legendary Simorgh, a mythical Persian bird roughly equivalent to the western phoenix. The hoopoe leads the birds, each of whom represent a human fault which prevents man from attaining enlightenment. When the group of thirty birds finally reach the dwelling place of the Simorgh, all they find is a lake in which they see their own reflection. This scene employs a pun on the Persian expression for "thirty birds" (si morgh).
Prince Zal and the Simurgh
The Simurgh made its most famous appearance in Ferdowsi's epic Shahnameh (Book of Kings). According to the Shahnameh, Prince 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 heard by the tender-hearted Simurgh, who lived atop 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 gave him 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 Rostam and the story of Rostam and Esfandiar.
The simorgh 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. Its feathers are said to be the colour of copper. Originally depicted as a kind of peacock with the head of a dog and the claws of a lion, later it was described with a human face. The simorgh is also inherently benevolent and unambiguously female. Being part mammal, she suckles her young, and has teeth.
Relation to the Hom (Tree of Life)
The simurgh roosted in the Hōm, the "Tree of Life," which stands in the middle of the world sea. The relationship between the simurgh and Hōm is extremely close. Like the simurgh, Hōm is represented as a bird, a messenger, and 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.