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Article Published In Vol.5 (July-Aug-2017)

Persian Allegory of Chinoiserie Motifs-Dragon and Phoenix or Simurgh

Author : Samina Zia Sheikh

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This research briefly investigates the significance of two Chinoiserie motifs, dragons and phoenixes that are frequently applied by the Persian artists from 13th century to 15th century when Chinese influence on Persian manuscripts was apparent in Persian illustrated manuscript. In Persian manuscript painting, mythical elements are of great significance. Many manuscript paintings convey a sense of the failure of evil and vicious mythical creatures like dragons and demons, before angelic forces, present in form of heroes with supernatural powers. Demons were considered destructive and a continuous danger to mankind, animals plants and crops. They were known as khrafstra and they included rodent, frogs, lizards, tortoise, spiders and insects such as well as wasps, ants and beetles. Cats were also regarded destructive as they belonged to the same harmful family of tigers and lions. Extraordinary monsters were also amongst these creatures that were challenged by human heroes. They frequently appeared in the form of serpents or dragons (azhi). The most significant of these was the giant with three heads who ate humans and was known as Azhi Dahaka (modern Persian azhdaha). Similar three-headed man-devouring monster appeared as Zahhak in Firdowsi’s Shahnameh. The subject of dragon attacking heroes is deeply entrenched in Persian epic literature. Another mythical character Phoenix, a symbolic holy firebird, which can be seen not only in Chinese and Persian paintings but equally present in Arabian, Greeks, Roman, Phoenician, Indian and Egyptian mythologies. Numerous legendary birds are known in the Mazdean mythology; however, most renowned bird is Saena, known to us the Simurgh of the Persians. Simurgh known from the Middle Persian language as Sinmurw, is also recognized in Avesta ‘the bird Saena’, with mythical powers in the creation of world. Described in Avesta, in the centre of the Vourukasha (heavenly sea in Zoroastrian mythology) mother of all trees grew which was the source of all plants. This tree is identified as the Saena Tree, a tree of all remedies or tree of all seeds and it produced the seeds of all plants. This first tree was having the nest of the legendary bird, Seana (Senmurv in Pahlavi, Simurgh in Persian). These motifs such as dragons, phoenixes are modified into Persian narrative according to the demand of pure Persian subject matter, style and iconography provided by Persian epic and romantic literature.

Keywords: Phoenix, Dragon, Chinoiserie, evil and vicious mythical creatures.

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