The curious children’s ‘big cat’, often defined in dictionaries as ‘large tawny flesh-eating cat’, in reality the most dreaded of all animals but in appearance lovable and alluring, the greatest attraction of a zoo, this lion statue, like the real lion, inspires affection, not fear. If anyone gets immunity against death or has assurance of friendship from a lion, he shall dream of standing by a lion’s side affectionately patting its mane and forehead. For centuries lion has been the most loved theme of almost all arts : sculpture, architecture, painting or photography. Wildlife photographers spend months for a shot of a lion’s lifestyle : mating, caressing its female counterpart, charging at a prey, drinking water etc.
In the form of animal capitals lion emerged in the art of sculpture during Mauryan era itself. Emperor Ashoka’s lion capital, the emblem of independent India’s statehood authenticating the Government’s all decrees including her currency, is perhaps the earliest of the lion-statues. An essential element of Indian architecture, lion statues have been beautifying as well as securing the gates of temples, forts, fortresses, havelis etc now for centuries. Miniatures portraying lion-theme : lion-hunting, illustrations to texts like Pancha-tantra etc, begin pouring in from the sixteenth century itself. In Devi-themes : painting or sculptures, lion has a wide presence. In Jain iconography, as the identity emblem of Tirthankara Mahavira, lion reliefs have been widely rendered. Lion figure comprises zodiac sign of constellation Leo. Lion has a presence also beyond Indian subcontinent. It is the national emblem of Great Britain. Even the languages borrow their phraseological idiom from the lion’s attributes, such a Shera-dil – lion-hearted man, lionize …
Indian people have always seen the lion with great reverence and with as much curiosity giving birth to many timeless legends, something still continuing as curious tales, if not legends. The legend of Bharat, the founder of Bharat-varsha, has curious lion-context. After Aryan king Dushyanta, Bharat’s father, was reminded of Shakuntala whom he had earlier turned away, he wandered in her search from one place to other to find one day a hermitage child playing with cubs of a lion. He immediately concluded that the child should be his child; this led him to Shakuntala. A completely new dimension in the lion’s lifestyle, about a week ago, forest officers of Ran-Thambor in Rajasthan found a male loin bringing up a pair of cubs whose lioness mother had died, something that a male lion never does. Recently, while passing across a cage a family found itself in the clutches of a lion’s arms hugging it to its bosom from behind the bars of the cage, The frightened family members turned their faces to find that it was the lion that they had found as a newborn cub in a forest some years ago and had given to the zoo after bringing it up to the age of maturity. The delight and a sense of gratitude on the animal’s face towards the family was unprecedented.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.