In Safavid times, the lion and sun stood for two pillars of the society, state and religion. It is clear that, although various alams and banners were employed by the Safavids during their rule, especially the earlier Safavid kings. By the time of Shah Abbas, the lion and sun symbol had become one of the most popular emblems of Persia.
According to Najmabadi, the Safavid interpretation of this symbol was based on a combination of mytho-histories and tales such as the Shahnama, stories of Prophets, and other Islamic sources. For the Safavids, the Shah had two roles: king and holy man. This double meaning was associated with the genealogy of Iranian kings. Two males were key people in this paternity: Jamshid (mythical founder of an ancient Persian kingdom), and Ali (Shi'te first Imam). Jamshid was affiliated with the sun and Ali was affiliated with the lion (Zul-faqar).
Shahbazi suggest that the association may originally have been based on a learned interpretation of the Shahnama's references to 'the Sun of Iran' and 'the Moon of the Turanians. (cf: the "Roman" - i.e. Byzantine - king as the "Moon of the West" in the Iranian Beckground section). Since Ottoman sultans, the new sovereigns of 'Rûm', had adopted the moon crescent as their dynastic and ultimately national emblem, the Safavids of Persia, needed to have a their own dynastic and national emblem. Therefore, Safavids chose the lion and sun motif. Besides, the Jamshid, the sun had two other important meanings for the Safavids. The sense of time was organized around the solar system which was distinct from the Arab-Islamic lunar system. Astrological meaning and the sense of cosmos was mediated through that. Through the zodiac the sun was linked to Leo which was the most auspicious house of the sun. Therefore, for the Safavids, the sign of lion and sun condensed the double meaning of the Shah — king and holy man (Jamshid and Ali) - through the auspicious zodiac sign of the sun in the house of Leo and brought the cosmic-earthy pair (king and Imam) together.
In seeking the Safavi interpretation of the lion and sun motif, Shahbazi suggests that the Safavids had reinterpreted the lion as symbolizing Imam ʿAlī and the sun as typifying the “glory of religion”, a substitute for the ancient farr-e dīn. They reintroduced the ancient concept of God-given Glory (farr), reinterpreted as “light” in Islamic Iran, and the Prophet and Ali "had been credited with the possession of a divine light of lights (nūr al-anwār) of leadership, which was represented as a blazing halo." They attributed such qualities to Ali and sought the king's genealogy through the Shiʿite fourth Imam’s mother to the royal Sassanian house.
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