May 04, 2023

#08-307: Shahmaran, Queen of the Snakes

The Shahmaran (Wikimedia)

Note: I am always delighted to find a story well-known in another culture but almost unknown in mine. Shahmaran, buried deep in the 1001 Nights, is just such a story.

Get Ready: Is it okay for a good person to lie if she or he knows it will lead to a good result?

A well-known story in Turkish culture features the mythical creature Shahmaran. (The story is so popular today that it has just been made into an eight-episode television drama; an ancient version can be found in The 1001 Nights.) The name is actually from the Persian language, and means "King" (Shah) of "Snakes" (maran). Peculiarly, though the name means "king," Shahmaran is a woman.

Here's her story.

One day a young woodcutter named Jamasp, with a few of his friends, tries to get some honey from deep inside a well. When the honey is gone, the "friends" leave Jamasp stranded in the well.

He finds a crack in the wall and, seeking a way out, digs at it with his knife, and discovers a passageway that leads into a large chamber filled with a beautiful garden. It contains thousands of off-white colored serpents who live together with the half-human, half-snake Shahmaran, who is as wise as she is beautiful.

Shahmaran and Jamasp fall in love, and the mystical woman teaches the human man about medicines and herbs. But Jamasp misses his family and his former life above ground, so one day he expresses a desire to leave. However, Shahmaran makes him promise that he will never share the secret of her hideaway, and he agrees.

Many years pass.

Jamasp now lives in the nearby city of Tarsus, and when the king there falls ill, his vizier determines that the only cure will be to eat the flesh of Shahmaran.

But how to find her? The vizier says that when anyone who has been in contact with the creature gets wet, scales will appear on their skin. So all the citizens are taken to the public baths, and Jamasp's connection to Shahmaran is revealed. The king's men then torture him into telling where Shahmaran can be found.

When captured, Shahmaran says her tail is full of wisdom. He who eats the middle portion of her body will live on, she says, but he who eats her head will die. Jamasp, wishing to die for shame, eats her head, and the greedy vizier eats her tail. But in her wisdom, she had lied: Jamasp gets wisdom from her head and becomes a wandering wise man and healer, and the vizier who led to her death dies from the poisoned tail. The king, by the way, is cured.

Since then, all snakes hate humans for what they did to Shahmaran.


  • Read more:
  • Read "Queen of the Serpents" FREE online in The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night; here, Jamasp is called "Hasib" (in full, Hasib Karim al-Din) and Shahmaran is called Yamlaykha, but usually just Queen of the Serpents, Queen-serpent, the Queen, etc.

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. chamber
  2. hideaway
  3. mystical
  4. mythical
  5. off-white
  6. passageway
  7. peculiarly
  8. portion
  9. serpents
  10. vizier

  1. snakes
  2. slightly tan-colored
  3. a room, often a large one
  4. strangely; oddly
  5. a place where one can live secretly
  6. a counselor to a king
  7. not real; imaginary
  8. a part; a section
  9. a tunnel; a hall; a corridor
  10. spiritual

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for May 4, 2023

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. c; 2. e; 3. j; 4. g; 5. b; 6. i; 7. d; 8. h; 9. a; 10. f