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Peri (Persian: پری, plural پريان pariān), otherwise known as Pari in Persian culture, are exquisite, winged spirits renowned for their beauty. Originally from Persian mythology, Paris were later adopted by other cultures. They are described as mischievous beings that have been denied entry to paradise until they have completed penance for atonement. Under Islamic influence, Peris became benevolent spirits, in contrast to the mischievous jinn and divs.
In Persian mythology and literature
Paris are detailed in Persianate folklore and poetry, appearing in romances and epics. Furthermore, later poets use the term to designate a beautiful woman and to illustrate her qualities.
At the start of Ferdowsi's epic poem Shahnameh, "The Book of Kings", the divinity Sorush appears in the form of a pari to warn Keyumars (the mythological first man and shah of the world) and his son Siamak of the threats posed by the destructive Ahriman. Paris also form part of the mythological army that Kaiumers eventually draws up to defeat Ahriman and his demonic son. In the Rostam and Sohrab section of the poem, Rostam's paramour, the princess Tahmina, is referred to as "pari-faced" (since she is wearing a veil, the term pari may include a secondary meaning of disguise or being hidden[dubious ]).
Paris were the target of a lower level of evil beings called دیوسان divs (دَيۋَ daeva), who persecuted them by locking them in iron cages. This persecution was brought about by, as the divs perceived it, the paris' lack of sufficient self-esteem to join the rebellion against perversion.
With the spread of Islam through Persia, the pari (or peri in Turkish) was integrated into Islamic folklore. Early Persian translations of the Quran, identified the good jinn as peris, and the evil ones with divs. The belief in Pari still persist among Muslims in India as a type of spiritual creature besides the jinn, shayatin and the ghosts of the wicked. Turkish Muslims often accept the existence of paris among other creatures, such as jinn, ifrit (ghosts or demons of hell), nakir, div (ogres or fiends) and shayatin (demons or devils).
According to the Persian exegesis of the Qurʼan Tafsir al-Tabari, the paris are beautiful female spirits created by God after the vicious divs. They mostly believe in God and are benevolent to mankind. They are still part of some folklore and accordingly they appear to humans, sometimes punishing hunters in the mountains who are disrespectful or waste resources, or even abducting young humans for their social events. Encounters with paris are held to be physical as well as psychological.
Marriage, although possible, is considered undue in Islamic lore. Because of humans impatience and distrust, relationship between humans and paris will break up. Bilqis is, according to one narrative, the daughter of such a failed relationship between a pari and a human.
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It has been noted by Western writers that the character of the Pari, as a supernatural wife, shares similar traits with the swan maiden, in that the human male hides the Pari's wings and marries her. After some time, the Pari woman regains her wings and leaves her mortal husband.
In Thomas Moore's poem Paradise and the Peri, part of his Lalla-Rookh, a pari gains entrance to heaven after three attempts at giving an angel the gift most dear to God. The first attempt is "The last libation Liberty draws/From the heart that bleeds and breaks in her cause", to wit, a drop of blood from a young soldier killed for an attempt on the life of Mahmud of Ghazni. Next is a "Precious sigh/of pure, self-sacrificing love": a sigh stolen from the dying lips of a maiden who died with her lover of plague in the Mountains of the Moon (Ruwenzori) rather than surviving in exile from the disease and the lover. The third gift, the one that gets the pari into heaven, is a "Tear that, warm and meek/Dew'd that repentant sinner's cheek": the tear of an evil old man who repented upon seeing a child praying in the ruins of the Temple of the Sun at Balbec, Syria. Robert Schumann set Moore's tale to music as an oratorium, Paradise and the Peri, using an abridged German translation.
French composer Paul Dukas's last major work was the sumptuous ballet La Péri (1912). Described by the composer as a "poème dansé", it depicts a young Persian prince who travels to the ends of the Earth in a quest to find the lotus flower of immortality, finally encountering its guardian, the Pari.
Gilbert and Sullivan's 1882 operetta Iolanthe is subtitled The Peer and the Peri. However the "peris" in this work are also referred to as "fairies" and have little in common with paris in the Persian sense.
A pari, whose power is in her hair, appears in Elizabeth Ann Scarborough's 1984 novel The Harem of Aman Akbar.
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