This week’s Travel Photo of the Week takes us to Singapore’s Tan Si Chong Su Temple to see the guardian lions. Guardian lions or as they are known by their Chinese name shíshī meaning stone lion, are a common architectural feature of Chinese Buddhist Temples, political buildings as well as wealthy Chinese homes. Historically, Asiatic lions native territory is India, the middle east and into Tibet. Most of China has never seen a live specimen (their current range is limited to a small pocket of India). Chinese artists used local dogs, most likely Tibetan mastiffs, as models and added a mane to them. This is probably the origin of the western term Foo Dog and why most of them look more dogs like than lions.
Typically, guardian lions are displayed in pairs, one male and one female. The statutes are rich with symbolism. Male lions have their right paw on a globe while the female holds down a lion cub with her left paw, a symbol of the circle of life. The female represents yin and is the guardian of the interior while the male represents yang and is the guardian of the structure. The male’s mouth is open while the female’s mouth is closed it is believed that the open mouth is making the “o” sound while the female’s closed mouth is the “m” sound creating the sacred “om” sound typically associated with meditation. More information about the sacred “om” sound can be found by clicking here
Lions are powerful symbols throughout India and southeast Asia with variations of the guardian lions found in the ancient temple complexes of Angkor Wat, modern businesses, “lion dances” to celebrate the new year, and even mixed with fish to create the mythical Merlion of Singapore.