Photo of the Day: The Simurgh at the Aga Khan Museum’s Beautiful Bellerive Room by Afraaz Mulji

A close-up of the Simurgh vase at Aga Khan Museum’s beautiful Bellerive Room. Photo: © Malik Merchant/Simergphotos.

By AFRAAZ MULJI

My favourite ceramic artefact from the Prince Sadruddin collection at the Aga Khan Museum is known as Simurgh, after the Conference of the Birds story by Attar. [1]

I have always been drawn to birds and the art of flight, both in a practical and mystical sense. Birds and flight are great symbols of transcendence and freedom in Islam and particularly Sufism. One could argue that in the Sufi canon, there are literal and metaphysical references to flight and journeys through the dissolution of selfhood.

I would claim that although the vessel embodies the form of a bird, it symbolises the idea of nothingness, fana’fillah (annihilation in Allah) and the realisation that when you know yourself, you know your master. This is why I have an affinity for it. It is also a beautiful example of the mastery of the artisan under whose hands, the vessel was given life.

As a consequence of my lifelong study of art and in particular fountains and mosaics, I can attest to the beauty and caliber of the vessel. Being that I am a connoisseur of objects of art, I am able to make known the quality and exceptional poise the collection as a whole displays, but in particular this magnificent object.

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Simurgh Ceramic Vase Bellerive Room Aga Khan Museum Conference of the Birds Attar Photo of the Day Afraaz Murji Simerg Photos
Leather clad Afraaz Mulji sits next to his favourite piece, the Simurgh ceramic vase, in the Bellerive Room of the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto. The photo was taken during one of his solo piano performances at the Museum last summer. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simergphotos.

Simurgh is situated in the Bellerive Room within the Aga Khan Museum. [2] The collection of some 60 ceramic objects in the room was the gift of Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan’s widow, Princess Catherine, to honour his memory. The Prince was a consummate collector who formed one of the great collections of art from the Muslim world.

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Simurgh, Simorg Conference of the Birds, Bellerive Room, Aga Khan Museum
A view of Aga Khan Museum’s Bellerive Room. The Simugh vase is housed in the bottom right shelf of the unit shown in the far left corner, at left of the TV screen. © Malik Merchant/Simergphotos.

Simurgh is a rare display of a connoisseur with a taste for exquisite craftsmanship and also utility. Many of the vessels served practical purposes and had a functional aspect. 

Date posted: June 2, 2021.

Note: The Aga Khan Museum is temporarily closed in support of public health efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.

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About Afraaz Mulji: See his profile at Contributors, and watch Afraaz perform a rendition of the Nashid al Imamah at the Aga Khan Museum last July.

Notes:

[1] In the allegory Mantiq al-Tayr (“Conference of the Birds”), by the poet Farid al-Din ‘Attar (d. circa 1221), a group of birds set out to find their king, whom they believe to be a simurgh living beyond the mountains at a placid lake. After discovering his home, thirty of the birds soon realize that the Simurgh is a reflection of themselves (in Persian, si murgh means “thirty birds”).

[2]. More about the Bellerive Room.

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