The (non-)appearance of Simurgh in the Mantiq al-Tayr
is a play of words. In the poem, the number of birds who finally reach Simurgh's palace
is thirty, and 'thirty birds' in Farsi
is si murgh
. So, in a true Sufi
manner, the birds arrive at the palace of their long-lost king after a long and arduous journey, only to be confronted by a mirror image of themselves - an obvious allegory
for the mystical search for a god
Simurgh also does a guest appearance in the national epic of Iran, the Shahname. This time the bird is female and acts as a guardian for the heroic house of Zal, delivering cryptic speeches and occasionally performing a miraculous healing or two. Firdawsi, the author of the Shahname, describes Simurgh as a huge, roc-like carnivorous bird with wonderfully coloured plumage. When the Simurgh is airborne, she completely obstructs the stars and covers the earth with her shadow. An eerie scent of musk emanates from her feathers. Occasionally she would shed one of them, and whoever found it was up for a real boon: a single feather could bestow artistic skills and inspiration to its possessor. Moreover, it could be burnt in a censer with incense to call forth the Simurgh herself.
The origins of Simurgh are obscure, but s/he seems to have been a pre-Zoroastrian god, worshipped by the early Indo-Aryan people living in the area covering modern Afghanistan, Iran and surrounding regions.
The Mantiq al-Tayr is translated into English with the name of Conference of the Birds, although wharfinger's parliament is a more accurate translation.