Variations: Sirānas, Suryānās, Sirinā, Siwānis


According to al-Qazwini, the Sirānis can be found in the undergrowth of Kabul and Zabulistan. Its name is derived from the Greek siren, from which the sirānis evolved beyond recognition.

Originally the sirānis was believed to be a marine animal with seven openings in its mouth, and which used its seven toes to play its snout like a musical instrument. This description, in turn, came to be that of the Qaqnus or Arghun, which was known by the same name as well. Sirinā was also the name of a system of walls with holes in them that replicated the call of the sirānis, and which was used by the Byzantines to attract and capture that animal.

Al-Qazwini, however, places the sirānis firmly on land as a carnivorous mammal with 12 openings in its snout. When it breathes, those orifices produce a pleasant sound like that of the mizmar or flute; indeed, it is said that it was the inspiration for the musical instruments.

A sirānis uses its musical prowess to capture prey. It produces a melody so entrancing that animals gather around it and swoon in wonder, giving the sirānis an open buffet to choose from. If none of the animals present are satisfactory, it lets out an earsplitting screech that scares its audience away.

In time, the proximity of the sirānis to the shādawār in al-Qazwini’s text led later authors to combine them, granting the more iconographically defined shādawār the predatory nature of the sirānis.


Contadini, A. Musical Beasts: The Swan-Phoenix in the Ibn Bakhtishu’ Bestiaries. In O, Kane, B. (2005) The Iconography of Islamic Art. Edinburgh University Press.

Contadini, A. (2012) A World of Beasts: A Thirteenth-Century Illustrated Arabic Book on Animals (the Kitab Na’t al-Hayawan) in the Ibn Bakhtishu’ Tradition. Brill, Leiden.

Ettinghausen, R. (1950) The Unicorn. Studies in Muslim Iconography, Freer Gallery of Art Occasional Papers Vol. 1, No. 3, Washington.

al-Qazwini, Z. (1849) Zakariya ben Muhammed ben Mahmud el-Cazwini’s Kosmographie. Erster Theil: Die Wunder der Schöpfung. Ed. F. Wüstenfeld. Dieterichsche Buchhandlung, Göttingen.