Chin thay (Burmese for ‘lion’) are mythological lion-like creatures (leogryph) that can be seen standing guard at the entrances of pagodas, cities and other important places. Chin thay are sometimes full-body lions but more often they have the rear half of a lion with their front half taking the form of a human, dog or dragon. They usually sit in pairs at either side of an entrance. As well as being built as giant statues, images of them also appear in old paintings and on ancient scrollwork both usually in a religious context. They are often used in the decorative design of important buildings in Myammar. Many of Myanmar’s unique teak monasteries have chin thay carved into their elaborate eaves for their protective qualities.
Resultantly, their images rest firmly as a symbol of Myanmar culture.The tradition of sculpting chin thay statues is said to go back thousands of years. The larger chin thay are made from concrete, bricks or stone while smaller forms are often shaped from bronze or wood. Nowadays, its image still appears on Myanmar kyat and old Burmese coins. Similar statues and figures can be found in other countries such as China, Thailand and Sri Lanka. Legend has it that a princess married a lion and had a son with him but later abandoned the lion.
The lion went on a rampage causing destruction and terror in his wake. The son, now grown, went about slaying the destructive lion. He fired three arrows at the lion’s head but none were enough to make him fall- so great was the lion’s love for his unknowing son. A fourth arrow finally brought down the lion. Later realizing that he had killed his own father, the son erected a statue of the brave lion and set it as a guardian of the temple to atone for the murder.