The Conference of the Birds

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"Conference of the Birds" redirects here. For other uses, see Conference of the Birds (disambiguation).
Scene from The Conference of the Birds in a Persian miniature. The hoopoe, center right, instructs the other birds on the Sufi path.

The Conference of the Birds or Speech of the Birds (Persian: منطق الطیر‎‎, Manṭiq-uṭ-Ṭayr, also known as مقامات الطیور Maqāmāt-uṭ-Ṭuyūr; 1177), is a long and celebrated Sufi poem of approximately 4500 lines written in Persian by the poet Farid ud-Din Attar, who is commonly known as Attar of Nishapur.

In the poem, the birds of the world gather to decide who is to be their king, as they have none. The hoopoe, the wisest of them all, suggests that they should find the legendary Simorgh, a mythical Persian bird roughly equivalent to the western phoenix. The hoopoe leads the birds, each of whom represent a human fault which prevents man from attaining enlightenment. From the many birds that begin the journey, only thirty birds are left that finally reach the dwelling place of the Simorgh. There, the birds see the Simorgh in the reflection of their faces of an implicit lake.[1][2]

Besides being one of the most celebrated examples of Persian poetry, this book relies on a clever word play between the words Simorgh – a mysterious bird in Iranian mythology which is a symbol often found in sufi literature, and similar to the phoenix bird – and "si morgh" – meaning "thirty birds" in Persian.[3]

It was in China, late one moonless night,
The Simorgh first appeared to mortal sight –
He let a feather float down through the air,
And rumours of its fame spread everywhere;[4]

The story recounts the longing of a group of birds who desire to know the great Simorgh, and who, under the guidance of a leader bird, start their journey toward the land of Simorgh. One by one, they drop out of the journey, each offering an excuse and unable to endure the journey. Each bird has a special significance, and a corresponding didactic fault. The guiding bird is the hoopoe, while the nightingale symbolizes the lover. The parrot is seeking the fountain of immortality, not God, and the peacock symbolizes the "fallen soul" who is in alliance with Satan.

The birds must cross seven valleys in order to find the Simorgh: Talab (Yearning), Ishq (Love), Ma'rifat (Gnosis), Istighnah (Detachment), Tawheed (Unity of God), Hayrat (Bewilderment) and, finally, Fuqur and Fana (Selflessness and Oblivion in God). These represent the stations that a Sufi or any individual must pass through to realize the true nature of God.

Within the larger context of the story of the journey of the birds, Attar masterfully tells the reader many didactic short, sweet stories in captivating poetic style. Eventually only thirty birds remain as they finally arrive in the land of Simorgh – all they see there are each other and the reflection of the thirty birds in a lake[citation needed] – not the mythical Simorgh. As the birds realize the truth, they now reach the station of Baqa (Subsistence) which sits atop the Mountain Qaf.

Attar's masterful use of symbolism is a key, driving component of the poem. This adroit handling of symbolisms and allusions can be seen reflected in these lines:

It was in China, late one moonless night,
The Simorgh first appeared to mortal sight –

Beside the symbolic use of the Simorgh, the allusion to China is also very significant. According to Idries Shah, China as used here, is not the geographical China, but the symbol of mystic experience, as inferred from the Hadith (declared weak by Ibn Adee, but still used symbolically by some Sufis): "Seek knowledge; even as far as China".[5] There are many more examples of such subtle symbols and allusions throughout the Mantiq.

La Conférence des oiseaux[edit]

Peter Brook and Jean-Claude Carrière adapted the poem into a play titled La Conférence des oiseaux (The Conference of the Birds), which they published in 1979. Brook toured the play around rural Africa before presenting two extremely successful productions to Western audiences—one in New York City at La MaMa, E.T.C. and one in Paris.[6]

An English translation of the show was performed in 2014 at the B Street Theatre in Sacramento, California.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "PHI Persian Literature in Translation". Retrieved 2016-12-09. Now the Sun celestial began to shine forth in front of them, and lo! how great was their surprise! In the reflection of their faces these thirty birds of the earth beheld the face of the Celestial Simurg. 
  2. ^ Attar, Farid Un-Din (1971). The Conference of the Birds. Translated by Nott, C.S. London, Great Britain: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd. p. 131. When they were completely at peace and detached from all things they became aware that the Simurgh was there with them, and a new life began for them in the Simurgh. All that they had done previously was washed away. The sun of majesty sent forth his rays, and in the reflection of each other's faces these thirty birds (si-murgh) of the outer world, contemplated the face of the Simurgh of the inner world. 
  3. ^ Hamid Dabashi (2012). The World of Persian Literary Humanism. Harvard University Press. p. 124. 
  4. ^ quoted from The Conference of the Birds by Farid al-Din Attar, edited and translated by Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis, Penguin Classics, 1984, ISBN 978-0-14-044434-6
  5. ^ Idries Shah, The Sufis, with an Introduction by Robert Graves
  6. ^ John Heilpern gives an account of the events surrounding these performances in his 1977 book Conference of the Birds: The Story of Peter Brook in Africa.

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