MARGINALIA: Beyond the Exoteric Beauty of ‘Panolong’

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 27 Nov) — Whenever I see a Facebook post on the inauguration of a barangay hall or any similar building in the BARMM area, what always catches my attention is the ‘panolong’ (the carved beam that protrudes in the front of the building) styled with ‘okir’ motif and ‘sarimanok’ design. 

Yes, the majestic ‘panolong’ – with its ‘okir’ motif and ‘sarimanok’ design – is undeniably beautiful.

But beyond the exoteric beauty of ‘sarimanok’ design is its obvious connection – at least, as I see it – with ‘Sīmurgh’ as featured mainly in Farid al-Din al-‘Attar’s mystical poem entitled ‘Mantiq al-Tayr’ (The Conference of the Birds or Speech of the Birds, https://amzn.to/3tXPttL), which is directly taken from the Qur’an, 27: 16, where Prophet Sulayman (Solomon) and Dawud (David), on whom be peace, are said to have been taught the language, or speech, of the birds (‘mantiq al-tayr’). 

‘Sarimanok’ literally means ‘assorted birds’ from ‘sari’ (assorted or various) and ‘manok’ (bird/chicken) while ‘Sīmurgh’ literally means ‘thirty birds’ from ‘sī’ (‘thirty’ in Persian) and ‘murgh’ (‘bird/chicken’ in Persian).

Panolong. Photo courtesy of MILG-BARMM

In the poem, the assorted birds of the world decide to find the legendary Sīmurgh so as to recognize him as their sovereign. After crossing the Seven Valleys of the Quest, Love, Knowledge, Detachment, Unity, Wonderment, and Poverty and Annihilation, only thirty (30) birds make it to the abode of Sīmurgh. In the end, as all the birds find is a lake in which they see their own reflection, they learn that they themselves are the Sīmurgh (that is, ‘sī’ ‘murgh’ (30 birds)!

Barangay Hall with panolong. Photo courtesy of MILG-BARMM

This mystical symbolism of ‘mantiq al-tayr’ is concisely dealt with on pages 11, 63, 82, and 202 of THE MYSTICISM OF HAFIZ by Shahid Murtada Mutahhari (https://amzn.to/3XfkSoT or https://bit.ly/TheMysticismofHafizOrderForm).

As such, whenever we enter the newly inaugurated barangay hall, it is as if the ‘sarimanok’-designed and ‘okir’-styled ‘panolongs’ in every corner remind us – ‘sīmurghs’ – of genuine public service as we are the reflection of the All-knowing ‘Sīmurgh’. 

Similarly, in a newly inaugurated market building, everyone is reminded of honest-to-goodness business dealings as we are the reflection of the All-knowing ‘Sīmurgh’. 

Simply put, MAN ‘ARAFA NAFSAH, FAQAD ‘ARAFA RABBAH (He who knows himself knows his Lord).

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Mansoor L. Limba, PhD in International Relations, is a writer, university professor, blogger, chess trainer, and translator (from Persian into English and Filipino) with tens of written and translation works to his credit on such subjects as international politics, history, political philosophy, intra-faith and interfaith relations, cultural heritage, Islamic finance, jurisprudence (fiqh), theology (‘ilm al-kalam), Qur’anic sciences and exegesis (tafsir)hadith, ethics, and mysticism. He can be reached at mlimba@diplomats.com, or http://www.mlimba.com and http://www.muslimandmoney.com, and his books can be purchased at www.elzistyle.com and www.amazon.com/author/mansoorlimba. This piece was first published on Dr. Limba’s FB page on 26 November 2022)