In our “Photo of the Day” feature published in Simergphotos on June 2, 2021, musician, author and artist Afraaz Mulji picked out the ceramic object Simurgh as his favourite piece among 60 other ceramic works of art that make up the beautiful Bellerive Room at Toronto’s Aga Khan Museum. The collection was gifted by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan’s widow, Princess Catherine, to honour his memory. The Prince (d. 2003) was a consummate collector who formed one of the great collections of art from the Muslim world.
Looking through Mawlana Hazar Imam’s speeches, we noted that he had mentioned Simurgh in a dynamic and stirring address that he delivered at the inaugural ceremony of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture held in Lahore, Pakistan on October 23, 1980.
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Mawlana Hazar Imam said:
“…..as we celebrate the first Awards and open the way for the forthcoming ones, all these challenges (Please read Speech at AKDN) can help us in defining the attitudes we must develop in thinking of the future and the areas of discovery open to us. It is a task we must accomplish together, fully acknowledging our diversities, but knowing, as well, that there is a Straight Path which is that of our Faith.
“Let me close, therefore, by reminding you of Attar’s great poem, the Conference of the Birds, Mantiqat at-Tayr.
“The birds, you will recall, in huge quantities went in search of the Simurgh, the ideal and perfect king. After many tribulations, thirty of them do reach the end of the journey and come to the gate of the Supreme Majesty. The Chamberlain tests them and then opens the door and they sit on the masnad, the seat of the Majesty and Glory. And, as an inner glow came into them, they realised that it is they together who were the Simurgh and that the Simurgh was the thirty birds.
“Is this not what these Awards mean? From the travails and labours of thousands, humble masons or expensive experts, there have emerged those works made by us and for us which we can present as being, all together, as an aggregate, as a group, the statement of our hopes and of our expectations as much as of our achievements.”
The Conference of the Birds: Selected Works in English
1. Attar’s Conference of the Birds by C.S. Nott has been available for more than 60 years in English, with a newer paperback released in 2016. Please check out C.S. Nott Conference of the Birds on Amazon.
2. Penguin Classics published a highly acclaimed translation in English by Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis, with an introduction by the latter, in 1984. See Darbandi & Davis Conference of the Birds on Amazon. See also its availability at Chapters-Indigo.
3. More recently Peter Sis, an award winning children’s book writer and illustrator, has offered a beautiful and uplifting adaptation of Attar’s poem which is available in both hardback and paperback formats. See Peter Sis Conference of the Birds on Amazon. See also its availability at Bookoutlet.
Date posted: June 3, 2021.
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