Huma bird

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Griffin-like column capital statuary, from about 500 BC Persepolis, Iran. In local popular interpretation, the figures on these columns are perceived as representations of the Huma bird.[1]
GroupingMythical creature
FolklorePersian mythology
CountryAncient Iran

The Huma (Persian: هما, pronounced Homā, Avestan: Homāio), also Homa, is a mythical bird of Iranian legends and fables,[2][3] and continuing as a common motif in Sufi and Diwan poetry. Although there are many legends of the creature, common to all is that the bird is said never to alight on the ground, and instead to live its entire life flying invisibly high above the earth.

There are numerous folk interpretations of the name, among them that of the Sufi teacher Inayat Khan, who supposed that "in the word Huma, hu represents spirit, and the word mah originates from the Arabic 'Maʼa' ماء which means water."[4]

Myths and legends[edit]

Huma bird in the Emblem of Uzbekistan

The Huma bird is said to never come to rest, living its entire life flying invisibly high above the earth, and never alighting on the ground (in some legends it is said to have no legs).[5]

Mosaic of the mythical Huma bird on the portal of Nadir Divan-Begi Madrasa in Bukhara, Uzbekistan

In several variations of the Huma myths, the bird is said to be phoenix-like, consuming itself in fire every few hundred years, only to rise anew from the ashes. The Huma bird is said to have both the male and female natures in one body (reminiscent of the Chinese Fenghuang), each nature having one wing and one leg. Huma is considered to be compassionate, and a 'bird of fortune'[6] since its shadow (or touch) is said to be auspicious.

In Sufi tradition, catching the Huma is beyond even the wildest imagination, but catching a glimpse of it or even a shadow of it is sure to make one happy for the rest of his/her life. It is also believed that Huma cannot be caught alive, and the person killing a Huma will die in forty days.[6]

In Ottoman poetry, the creature is often referred to as a 'bird of paradise';[6][7] early European descriptions of the Paradisaeidae species portrayed the birds as having no wings or legs, and the birds were assumed to stay aloft their entire lives.

In Attar of Nishapur's allegorical masterpiece The Conference of the Birds, an eminent example of Sufi works in Persian literature, the Huma bird is portrayed as a pupil that refuses to undertake a journey because such an undertaking would compromise the privilege of bestowing kingship on those whom it flew over. In Iranian literature, this kingship-bestowing function of the Huma bird is identified with pre-Islamic monarchs, and stands vis-a-vis ravens, which is a metaphor for Arabs.[8] The legend appears in non-Sufi art as well.[9]

The kingship-bestowing function of the Huma bird reappear in Indian stories of the Mughal era, in which the shadow (or the alighting) of the Huma bird on a person's head or shoulder were said to bestow (or foretell) kingship. Accordingly, the feathers decorating the turbans of kings were said to be plumage of the Huma bird.[10]

Sufi teacher Inayat Khan gives the bestowed-kingship legend a spiritual dimension: "Its true meaning is that when a person's thoughts so evolve that they break all limitation, then he becomes as a king. It is the limitation of language that it can only describe the Most High as something like a king."[4]

The Huma bird symbolizes unreachable highness in Turkish folk literature.[11] Some references to the creature also appear in Sindhi literature, where – as in the diwan tradition – the creature is portrayed as bringing great fortune. In the Zafarnama of Guru Gobind Singh, a letter addressed to Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb refers to the Huma bird as a "mighty and auspicious bird".


Homa Persepolis Iran
Griffin-like capital statuary, from about 500 BC Persepolis, Iran. The figures on these columns are popularly considered to be representations of the Huma bird.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Curtis, John; Tallis, Nigel, eds. (2005), Forgotten Empire, the World of Ancient Persia, London: British Museum Press, ISBN 978-0-7141-1157-5
  2. ^ MacKenzie, D. N. (2005), A concise Pahlavi Dictionary, London & New York: Routledge Curzon, ISBN 0-19-713559-5
  3. ^ Mo'in, M. (1992), A Persian Dictionary. Six Volumes, Tehran: Amir Kabir Publications, ISBN 1-56859-031-8
  4. ^ a b Khan, Inayat (1923), "Abstract Sound", The Mysticism of Music, Sound and Word,
  5. ^ Nile, Green (2006), "Ostrich Eggs and Peacock Feathers: Sacred Objects as Cultural Exchange between Christianity and Islam", Al Masaq: Islam and the Medieval Mediterranean, 18 (1): 27–78, doi:10.1080/09503110500222328.
  6. ^ a b c H. Dilek Batîslam, Mythological Birds of the Classical Ottoman Poetry: Huma, Anka and Simurg. (PDF) (in Turkish), Türk Kültürü İncelemeleri Dergisi,İstanbul 2002, 185–208, retrieved 3 August 2009
  7. ^ cf. Andrews, Walter; Kalpakli, Mehmet (2005), The Age of Beloveds, Duke University Press, pp. 341–342.
  8. ^ Pourshariati, Parvaneh (2000), "Local Historiography in Early Medieval Iran and the Tārīkh-i Bayhaq", Iranian Studies, 33 (1/2): 133–164, doi:10.1080/00210860008701979, p. 151.
  9. ^ cf. Goswamy, B. N. (1997), "Nainsukh of Guler: A Great Indian Painter from a Small Hill-State", Artibus Asiae, Supplementum, 41: 5–304, p. 118.
  10. ^ Schimmel, Annemarie; Attwood, Corinne; Waghmar, Burzine (2004), The Empire of the Great Mughals: History, Art and Culture, Reaktion, p. 30.
  11. ^ Erdoğan Altınkaynak, Yer Altı Diyarının Kartalı (in Turkish), Hacı Bektaş Veli Araştırma Dergisi, 26, 135 – 163 (2003), archived from the original on 8 March 2014, retrieved 8 March 2014
  12. ^ "3988 Huma (1986 LA)". Minor Planet Center. Retrieved 27 September 2016.

Further reading[edit]