Once upon a time, in the dim old days, all the birds of the world assembled in solemn conclave to consider a momentous question.

Ever since the dawn of Creation the inhabitants of every city had had a king or leader, called Shahryar, or the friend of the city, but these feathered souls had no king to befriend them. Theirs was an army with­out a general—a position most precarious. How could they be successful in the battle of life without a leader to guide the weak-winged party through the perils of earthly existence? Many an eloquent speaker addressed the assembly, deploring their helpless plight in plaintive terms, bringing tears to the eyes of thetiny ones, and it was unanimously agreed that it was highly desirable, nay, absolutely necessary, that they should place themselves without delay under the pro­tection of a king.

At this stage, full of fervour, leapt forward the Hoopoe (Hud-hud) renowned in the Muslim scriptures for the part she had played as King Solomon’s trusted emissary to Bilqis, the Queen of Sheba. She had on her bosom the crest symbolizing her spiritual knowledge and on her head shone the crown of faith.

“Dear birds”, she said, “I have the honour to be­long to the Celestial Army. I know the Lord and the secrets of creation. When one carries, as I do, the name of God writ large upon its beak, one may be given the credit of knowing many a secret of the spiritual world.”

In the same vein of exultation she recounted her physical and mental qualities. She had the gift of divining underground sources of water and had directed the genii to them by pecking the earth. She had gone round the globe in the days of the Deluge and had accompanied Solomon in his journey through dales and deserts. She was the forerunner of his army and his faithful messenger.

“We have a king, my friends,” said she, “I have obtained an indication of His court; but to go alone in quest of Him is beyond my power. If, however, you accompany me, I think we may hope to reach the threshold of His Majesty. Yea, my friends, we have a king, whose name is Simurg*, and whose residence is behind Mount Caucasus. He is close by, but we are far away from Him. The road to His throne is bestrewn with obstructions; more than a hundred thousand veils of light and darkness screen the throne. Hundreds of thousands of souls burn with an ardent passion to see Him, but no one is able to find his way to Him. Yet none can afford to do without Him. Supreme manliness, absolute fearlessness and complete self-effacement are needed to overcome those obstacles. If we succeed in getting a glimpse of His face, it will be an achievement indeed. If we do not attempt it, and if we fail to greet the Beloved, this life is not worth living.”

The Hoopoe then described to her winged friends how the Simurg had first made His appearance on earth.

“During the early days of Creation He passed one midnight in His radiant flight over the land of China. A feather from His wing fell on Chinese soil. Instantly there was great tumult throughout the world. Everyone was seized with a desire to take a picture of that feather, and whoever saw the picture lost his senses. That feather is still in China’s picture-gallery. ‘Seek knowledge, even in China’ points to this.”*

On hearing this account of the Simurg, the birds lost all patience and were seized with a longing to set out at once in quest of the Sovereign Bird. They became His friends and their own enemies and wished to go forward in search of Him, but when they were told how long and fearful the road was, they were completely unnerved and brought forward several excuses. These apologies were typical of the personal idiosyncrasies of the different species of the birds.

The first to retrace its steps was the Nightingale, known for his passionate fancy for the Rose and for the rapturous melodies in which he sings of his love. “I am so completely drowned in the ocean of love for my Rose”, said he, “that I have practically no life of my own. How can a tiny thing like me have the fortitude to withstand the splendour of the Simurg? For me the love of the Rose is enough.”

“Oh”, cried the Hoopoe, “ye who stop short at mere appearances, being enamoured of external beauty only, talk no more of Love. Your love for the Rose has merely spread thorns in your way. Such a passion for transient objects brings naught save grief. Give up your fancy for the Rose. It mocks you at every spring and blossoms not for your sake. Your attachment for it is like that of the Dervish in the story I will relate to you.”