Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Gatekeepers of the Lion City

What a lovely collar - I'm sure it adds to the protective power of this noble animal. This is the female lion, as they always hold a cub under their front paw (and for good feng shui, are placed on the left side gate when looking towards the house).

There's no shortage of lions around in Singapore, even if no such animals probably have ever lived outside the zoo on the island. It is probably impossible to walk 100 meter without spotting a lion - they come in all thinkable sizes, materials and colours and can be found on gateposts, front yards and parks or pretty much anywhere where you can install a sculpture or a decorative figure. Of course, lion symbolizes courage, strength and excellence so it has have been extremely common both in heraldry and in religious and profane imagery overall the world for thousands of years (it was adopted even in the coat of arms of my home country Finland in a time no-one on those northern latitudes had never seen the animal neither alive nor dead). But why lions, when tigers - another eastern symbol for power and strength - were more than desirably abundant on these tropical areas in the olden days?
Lion guardians at the gateposts of the Tanjong Katong area. In west, they have been called Foo/Fu dogs or sometimes Foo/Fu lions - the Chinese never refer to them as dogs. One of my favorites is the green glazed one on the lower left, a female lion with a cub under its left front paw - the male lion rests its right paw on a globe depicting the world.

As the story goes, an Indonesian prince called Sang Nila Utama landed with his ship on the island sometime in the 13th century. The first thing he saw here was what he thought a lion running at a great speed. A great omen, thought the prince, and decided to name the place Singapura, a Malay name deriving from sanskrit words singa meaning lion and ore meaning city. (I just wonder what the city would have been called if his eyesight would have been better?)

But well-suited for a Lion City as these gatekeepers are, they actually don't have anything to do with the name of the city. Instead, they are part of a nearly two thousand old Chinese tradition of placing guardian lions called "Shishis" by the entrance because of the powerful protective benefits they are believed to carry (in west, these figures are often called foo or fu dogs, even if the Chinese never refer to them as dogs). From the imperial palaces, temples and tombs of the Han dynasty, they have followed Chinese emigrants to pretty much all continents, and can today be found protecting buildings of all kinds from restaurants in San Francisco to houses of the wealthy and poor in Singapore and beyond. And tigers - despite missing out on naming the island and then having hunted to extinction, some lovely examples can luckily still be spotted in the old temples here.

Tigers are much harder to spot in Singapore, but not completely extinct - here the Tiger Lord at the Goh Chor Tua Pek Kong Temple on Balestier Road. He (or it?) is believed to help people who seek redress from injustices.


Ruben said...

Charmiga och väldigt uttrycksfulla! Keep on the good spottings! ;-)

Ha det gott!

The Intercontinental Gardener said...

Tack, Ruben - jag plitar och plåtar ihärdigt på i min lilla blogg-dagbok... :-)

Många glada hälsningar, Liisa.