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The fish (Bahamut) carries on its back the giant bull (Kuyuta), and on the green hyacinth slab stands an earth-bearing angel.[1]
—Surüri's Turkish translation of al-Qazwini. Topkapi Palace Museum, Istanbul, MSSA A 3632, folio 131a[3]

Bahamut, or Bahamoot (/bəˈhɑːmt/ bə-HAH-moot; Arabic: بهموت), according to Zakariya al-Qazwini, is a monster that lies deep below, underpinning the support structure that holds up the earth.

In this conception of the world, the earth is shouldered by an angel, who stands on a slab of gemstone, which is supported by the cosmic beast (ox) sometimes called Kuyutha'(/Kuyuthan)/Kiyuban/Kibuthan (most likely from a corruption or misrendering of Hebrew לִוְיָתָן "Leviathan"). Bahamut carries this bull on its back, and is suspended in water for its own stability.

Balhūt is a variant name found in some cosmographies. In the earliest sources, the name is Lutīyā, with Balhūt given as a byname and Bahamūt as a nickname.


Bahamūt is the spelling given in al-Qazwini (d. 1283)'s cosmography.[a][4] Bahamoot is Edward Lane's transcribed spelling.[5] Balhūt is the alternate spelling given in Yaqut al-Hamawi (d. 1229)'s geographic work[b][6] and copies of Ibn al-Wardi (d. 1348)'s work.[c][8]

The name is thought to derive from the biblical Behemoth.[1] It has thus been translated as Behemot (German for "Behemoth") by Ethé.[d][9] However, the original biblical Behemoth never appeared as a fish.[10] A reshaping of its nature must have occurred in Arab storytelling, some time in the pre-islamic period.[11] One proposed scenario is that a pair of beasts from the Bible were confused with each other;[12] the behemoth mis-assigned to the fish, and the aquatic leviathan to the bull.

Lane's summary[edit]

Bahamut, according to Lane's abstract of a particular Islamic work on cosmography, is a giant fish acting as one of the layers that supports the earth.[13] It is so immense "[all] the seas of the world, placed in one of the fish's nostrils, would be like a mustard seed laid in the desert".[13] Above the fish stands a bull called Kuyootà, on the bull, a "ruby"[e] rock, on the rock an angel to shoulder the earth. Below the Bahamut (Leviathan) is the colossus serpentine Falak.[14]

Lane's primary Islamic source for his summary is unclear, as Lane merely refers to it circumlocutiously as "the work of one of the writers above quoted".[f][15]

Arabic sources[edit]

There are a number of Islamic cosmographical treatises, of more or less similar content.

There can occur certain discrepancies in Western translations, even when there are no textual differences in the Arabic. The creature, named Bahamut or Balhut in these sources, can be described as a fish or whale according to translation, since the original Arabic word hūt (حوت) can mean either.[4] Also, the gem comprising the slab beneath the angel's feet, in Arabic yāqūt (ياقوت) is of ambiguous meaning,[16] and can be rendered as "ruby", or variously otherwise.[e][Arabic source verification needed]


Qazwini group[edit]

Al-Damiri (d. 1405) on authority of Wahb ibn Munabbih was one of Lane's sources, possibly the source of his main summary.[g] His description of "Bahmût" (French translation) matches Lane's summary down to certain key details.[h] However, there seems to be discrepancies in using "a heap of sand" (instead of "mustard") in the size analogy.[17]

Al-Qazwini (d. 1283)'s[i] cosmography The Wonders of Creation on the contrary agrees with Lane on these points.[j][24][9] However, it disagrees somewhat with Lane's description regarding what lies below the fish: water, air, then a region of darkness, and with respect to the bull's appendages.[k][l] It should be cautioned that Qazwini's cosmography is known to exist in a variety of different manuscripts.[25]

Both cosmographies provide the story as words spoken by Wahb ibn Munabbih,[26][27] so the descriptions should be similar at the core. In fact, Al-Damiri's version is considered to be mere redactions of Qazwini printed onto its margins.[28]

Yakut group[edit]

Ibn al-Wardi (d. 1348) (Kharīdat al-ʿAjā'ib, "The Pearl of Wonders") is another source used by Lane, to give variant readings. Its chapter that includes the cosmography has been deemed a copy of Yaqut al-Hamawi (d. 1229)'s Mu'jam al-Buldan, with similar wording, with some rearrangements, and very slight amounts of discrepant information.[29]

"Balhūt" is the name of the great fish given in both Ibn al-Wardi[8][30] and Yaqut.[21][m][32]

Yakut[21] and al-Wardi both say there is a layer of sandhill between the bull and the fish.[33][34] They also describe what lies under the fish somewhat differently.[35][36]

These texts connect the cosmic fish and bull with phenomena of nature, namely the waxing and ebbing of tides, maintenance of the sea-level, and earthquakes. The account which only connects concerns the bull states that its breathing causes the waxing and ebbing of the tides.[40] And since the fish and the bull drink the water running off the earth into the sea, they counteract the tap-off causing sea-level to rise. But the beasts will eventually become engorged, when they will become agitated,[41] or, it marks the advent of Judgment Day (Ibn al-Wardi, Yaqut).[21]

Lives of prophets[edit]

There are two Qiṣaṣ al-anbīyāʾ ("Lives of the Prophets"), one by al-Tha'labi, known otherwise for his Tafsir al-Thalabi, the other by Muḥammad al-Kisāʾī which are considered the oldest authorities containing similar cosmographical descriptions concerning the big fish and bull.[38] In al-Tha'labi's text is an elucidation on the whale having several names, as follows: "God created a large fish (nūn) which is a huge whale whose name (ism) is Lutīyā, by-name (kunyah) Balhūt, and nickname (laqab) Bahamūt".[22][42]


Yakut also gives the account that Iblis almost incited the whale Balhūt into causing a quake, but God distracted it by sending gnats to its eyes. Or alternatively, God had sent a sword-like fish that bedazzled and captivated the giant fish.[21] This account is also found in al-Tha'labi's Qiṣaṣ al-anbīyāʾ, but in that version God forces the whale (Lutīyā) into submission by sending a creature that invaded through its nose and reached its brain; it also claims to be an anecdote on authority of Kaʿb al-Aḥbār (d. 650s A.D.),[43] a convert considered the earliest informant of Jewish-Muslim tradition to Arab writers.[44][45][n]

Although this is an instance of an Arabic tale that ascribes the origins of earthquakes to the cosmic whale/fish supporting the earth, more familiar beliefs in medieval Arab associate the earthquake with the bull, or with Mount Qaf.[48][13]

Jorge Luis Borges has drawn parallels between Bahamut and the mythical Japanese fish "Jinshin-Uwo",[49] although the correct term would be jishin uo (地震魚, lit. 'earthquake fish'); cf. Namazu-e or 'catfish pictures'.[50]

Japanese folklorist Taryō Ōbayashi [ja] has explained that the traditional belief in the earthquake-causing bull is heavily concentrated in Arab regions (Saharan Africa, Arabian Peninsula, Pakistan, Malay),[51] whereas the motif of "World-Fish's movement causes earthquake" is found mostly in parts of Indochina, China, and throughout Japan.[52]


According to Jorge Luis Borges's work, the Book of Imaginary Beings (1957), Bahamut is "altered and magnified" from Behemoth and described as so immense that a human cannot bear its sight.[53] [54] [55]

Borges placed Bahamut as the identity of the unnamed giant fish which Isa (Jesus) witnessed in the story of the 496th night of One Thousand and One Nights (Burton's edition).[o][55] This giant fish supports a bull, the bull a rock, and the rock an angel,[56] exactly as in the traditional Perso-Arabic medieval model of the world.[55][p][q][56] Borges appropriated the description of the Bahamut from Edward Lane's Arabian Society in the Middle Ages.[57][r]

In popular culture[edit]

  • In the Dungeons & Dragons tabletop role-playing game, Bahamut is the dragon god of justice, and is the first instance of the name being used for a dragon.
  • In the Rage of Bahamut collectible card game and its anime adaptation, Bahamut is an ancient dragon with the capability to destroy the world. In the anime, preventing or aiding Bahamut's release is the goal of most of the story's factions. This Bahamut later appears in Granblue Fantasy and Dragalia Lost.
  • In the Final Fantasy video game series, Bahamut is one of the most prominent summons – monsters that can be brought into battle to fight for their summoner. It appears in almost all installments of the series, with the exception of Final Fantasy II and Final Fantasy XII, where its name is used for the game's final dungeon, Sky Fortress Bahamut.
  • The album Bahamut by New York–based musical group Hazmat Modine features a song called "Bahamut" as its third track.
  • Several characters from the anime series "Beyblade Burst" have used a Bahamut Bey, a defense type. It is most often depicted as a black and purple dragon with accents of teal and red.
  • Bahamut is one of the nine guardians in La-Mulana.
  • In author Brandon Mull's YA fantasy novel Fablehaven, the demon Bahamut is imprisoned on the preserve, and freed by the witch Muriel Taggert during the events of book one.

See also[edit]

Explanatory notes[edit]

  1. ^ The Wonders of Creation
  2. ^ Mu'jam al-Buldan
  3. ^ Ibn al-Wardi, The Pearl of Wonders(Kharīdat al-ʿajā'ib wa-farīdat al-ghāraʾib). "Belhut" in a Latin translation.[7]
  4. ^ Ferdinand Wüstenfeld's edited text and Hermann Ethé's incomplete translation.
  5. ^ a b Arabic yāqūt is ambiguous, and it had been endered "ruby" as Lane and Perron[17] but also "green emerald" elsewhere;[18] or "rock",[19] or "green jacinth",[20] "green corundum",[21] or "green rock".[22]
  6. ^ The source he notes at the end of the summary is al-Damiri ("Ed-Demeeree"), but this source does not completely match Lane's summary in details, at least when using Perron's translation of al-Damiri for comparison.
  7. ^ At least this is the source ("Ed-Demeeree, on the authority of Wahb Ibn-Munebbih, quoted by El-Isḥáḳee, 1, 1.") which he cites at the apparent end of the description from one work; after which he begins "Another opinion is..." and moves to a different source.
  8. ^ The bull having 4,000 eyes, nose, ears, mouths, tongue, and legs.
  9. ^ Or "El-Ḳazweenee" as Lane spells his name. Lane cites him in the foregoing passages on "Kaf", Arabic Society, p. 105.
  10. ^ On the "mustard seed" analogy and proximity of the bull's name: "mustard seed" (German "Senfkorn") in Ethé's translation. Bull's names are "Kīyūbān (Arabic: کیوبان) or Kibūthān" (Arabic: کبوثان) in Wüstenfeld's edition,[23] but also written "Kuyūthā" (كيوثاء ) in some version.
  11. ^ The bull has 40,000 eyes, etc.
  12. ^ Although these differences are strictly based on the edition of Qazwini published in Germany (Wüstenfeld ed.)
  13. ^ Although in some printed editions of Ibn al-Wardi, it occurs as "bahmūt" (equivalent to "Bahamūt").
  14. ^ The account is also given by Ibn al-Wardi,[46] by al-Suyūṭī (d. 1505) and the al-Jazzār (d. after 1576).[47]
  15. ^ This is one of the tales in "The Adventures of Bulukiya".
  16. ^ Burton hinted this also, footnoting that this bull was the cosmic "Bull of the Earth", and gives appelation in Persian as gāw-i zamīn.[56]
  17. ^ Except the night's tale adds that in the further depths lives a serpent called Falak.
  18. ^ And not, as one might be led to believe, from Lane's translation of the Arabian Nights. In fact, Lane after Chapter 19 (Nights 424–436) skips to Night 537,[58] so he omits this Bulukiya tale entirely.


  1. ^ a b Streck, Maximilian [in German] (1936), "Ḳāf", The Encyclopaedia of Islām, vol. IV, E. J. Brill ltd., pp. 582–583, ISBN 9004097902
  2. ^ Ramaswamy, Sumathi. "Going Global in Mughal India". Duke University. pp. 73–74.; album; pdf text
  3. ^ Berlekamp, Persis (2011) Wonder, Image, and Cosmos in Medieval Islam. Yale University Press. p. 197 and fig. 79, apud Ramaswamy[2]
  4. ^ a b Chalyan-Daffner (2013), p. 216 and note 198.
  5. ^ Lane (1883), pp. 106–107.
  6. ^ Jwaideh (1987), pp. 34–35.
  7. ^ Ibn al-Wardi (1835), pp. 36–37.
  8. ^ a b Chalyan-Daffner (2013), p. 216, note 198. (Kharīdat, Cairo edition of AH1358/AD1939, published by Maṭbaʿat Muṣtafā al-Bābī al-Ḥalabī, pp. 16, 15)
  9. ^ a b Ethé (1868), p. 298.
  10. ^ Chalyan-Daffner (2013), pp. 237–238 and note 271, citing Heinen, Islamic Cosmology, p. 235 for the statement "in none of these ancient texts is Behemoth a fish"
  11. ^ Chalyan-Daffner (2013), p. 238.
  12. ^ Guest, Grace D.; Ettinghausen, Richard (1961), "The Iconography of a Kāshān Luster Plate", Ars Orientalis, 4: 53, note 110, JSTOR 4629133, The passage in Qazwīnī dealing with these ideas is on p. 145 of Wüstenfeld's edition (where the names of the two animals are confused with each other and where also the Leviathan appears in a corrupt Arabic form form; see also tr. Ethé, p. 298
  13. ^ a b c Lane (1883), pp. 105–106.
  14. ^ Bane, Theresa (2016). Encyclopedia of Beasts and Monsters in Myth, Legend and Folklore. McFarland. p. 51. ISBN 9780786495054.
  15. ^ Lane (1883), p. 106.
  16. ^ Rustomji, Nerina (2013). The Garden and the Fire: Heaven and Hell in Islamic Culture. Columbia University Press. p. 71. ISBN 9780231140850.
  17. ^ a b Ibn al-Mundir, Abū Bakr b. Badr (1860), Le Nâċérî: La perfection des deux arts ou traité complet d'hippologie et d'hippiatrie arabes, vol. 3, Perron, Nicolas (trans.), Bouchard-Huzard, p. 481: Note 14 to p. 457 by Perron (in French)
  18. ^ Latin, accusative, smaragdum viridem, Ibn al-Wardi (1835), pp. 36–37
  19. ^ "Felsen aus grünem Hyacinth", in the Ethé's German translation of Qazwini, Ethé (1868), p. 298
  20. ^ Streck (1936), p. 615, under the entry for "Ḳāf"
  21. ^ a b c d e f Jwaideh (1987), p. 34.
  22. ^ a b Brinner (2002), p. <!4,-->7.
  23. ^ Chalyan-Daffner (2013), p. 214, note 195 transcribes "Kīyūbān/Kibūthān" from Wüstenfeld ed., I, p. 148
  24. ^ Wüstenfeld (1849), p. 145.
  25. ^ Streck (1936), "al-Ḳazwīnī", Encyclopedia of Islām, p. 841.
  26. ^ Ethé (1868), p. 297.
  27. ^ Chalyan-Daffner (2013), p. 216 and note 199.
  28. ^ Streck (1936), "al-Ḳazwīnī", Encyclopedia of Islām, p. 844.
  29. ^ Jwaideh (1987), p. 19, note 4.
  30. ^ "Belhut" in the Latin translation of Kharīdat Ibn al-Wardi (1835), pp. 36–37
  31. ^ Jwaideh (1987), p. 19.
  32. ^ Jwaideh (1987), p. 34, note 4, where it states that in Ibn al-Wardi, Kharīdat, p. 14 the spelling is given as "bahmūt". The Kharīdat here is that of the Cairo edition of AH1324/AD1906.[31]
  33. ^ Chalyan-Daffner (2013), pp. 215–216 and notes 196, 107: Ibn al-Wardī, Kharīdat al-ʿajāʾib, p. 16.
  34. ^ Lane (1883), p. 107, note 1..
  35. ^ Lane (1883), p. 107, note 3.
  36. ^ Chalyan-Daffner (2013), pp. 217–218.
  37. ^ Lane (1883), p. 106, note 1.
  38. ^ a b Jwaideh (1987), p. 34, note 1.
  39. ^ Brinner (2002), p. 7.
  40. ^ Yaqut,[21] ibn-Wardi,[37] and al-Tha'labi.[38][39]
  41. ^ Chalyan-Daffner (2013), p. 217 and note 200
  42. ^ Chalyan-Daffner (2013), p. 235.
  43. ^ Brinner (2002), p. 8.
  44. ^ Chalyan-Daffner (2013), p. 217 and note 201
  45. ^ Schmitz, Michael (1936), "Kaʿb al-Aḥbār", The Encyclopaedia of Islām, vol. IV, E. J. Brill ltd., p. 583, ISBN 9004097902
  46. ^ Chalyan-Daffner (2013), pp. 217.
  47. ^ Chalyan-Daffner (2013), pp. 219–220.
  48. ^ Chalyan-Daffner (2013), pp. 219–221, 226, 238.
  49. ^ Borges & Guerrero (2005), pp. 114, 230, citing Wheeler, Post (1952) The Sacred Scriptures Of The Japanese, p. 495.
  50. ^ Ouwehand, Cornelis (1964), Namazu-e and Their Themes, E. J. Brill, pp. 4, 262(index)
  51. ^ Ōbayashi, Taryō (1979). Shinwa no hanashi. pp. 84–89.
  52. ^ Ōbayashi, Taryō (1979). Shinwa no hanashi. pp. 93–96.
  53. ^ Borges & Guerrero 1978, pp. 36–37.
  54. ^ Borges & Guerrero 1969, pp. 37–38.
  55. ^ a b c Borges & Guerrero 2005, pp. 25–26
  56. ^ a b c Burton, Richard F. (1885), "Four hundred and ninety-sixth night", A Plain and Literal Translation of the Arabian Nights: Now Intituled The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, vol. 5, Burton Club, pp. 323–325.
  57. ^ Borges & Guerrero (2005), p. 25 and Hurley's note to it, p. 221, saying that the passage "The earth was, it is said..." is from Lane, Arabian Society.
  58. ^ Lane, Edward William (1840). The Thousand and One Nights: Commonly Called, in England, the Arabian Nights' Entertainments. Vol. 2. London: Charles Knight. p. 643.