Otherwise a simple form modeled like a toy-lion the statues represent the monarch of all animals with its fearful wide open mouth held high in full majesty and princely grace. Besides the crowning headgear and helmet-type frame around the face its dreadful canine teeth and lolling tongue inspire awe as should do the sceptre holding monarch. Though a forward thrust defines its posture, as if ready to charge at its prey, the animal, known to be always alert, has been conceived as standing with a commander’s grace and patience. In Indian style lion-statues, widely used as architecture- components, the lions’ figures are conceived with forelegs fully stretched as if for making a long leap, and the hind, collected to optimize the body’s force. In them the tail is usually secured on the back lest it hindered the pace, eyes, fixed on the target, ears, alert to the faintest sound of any movement, and wide open mouth, lolling tongue and sharp canine teeth eager to tear and devour. Though not realistically cast, or unrealistically stylized, this Nepali style lion does not alternate a building part. The colour of metal, its medium, further underlines the animal’s golden colour and majesty.
As for the overall anatomy of the animal, it has been conceived with a relatively elongated mouth and a head having a helmet-type upwards rising apex. It has a thicker neck without mane but has instead the feathers like hair line on its upper side covering mainly the head’s back and the head attributing to the animal mythical look of a winged lion. Most interesting is its upwards raised tail consisting of a dragon form : an essential attribute of Chinese, Tibetan and Nepalese art. The tail’s curving stretch is usual like a thick rope but the tuft of hair that comprises its end consists of a dragon’s mouth. The animal’s entire body appears as assembled a robot like of shield-like protruding plates, and the body-hair on the sides of the back and on haunches, more like arabesques. The thicker hair-line on the ankles of the hind legs has been conceived like leg-guards. The figure has been adorned with laces of beads, one loosely hung on the neck, and other, close to it.
Though the lion-statues in the form of lion capitals had emerged during the period of the Mauryan emperor Ashok whose territories extended to Nepal and beyond and the Buddha’s doctrine of non-violence and mutuality of human and animal worlds were primarily responsible for the cult of affectionately looking even at a lion-like dreadful animal, in the medieval Nepal the Devi-worship-cult promoted the affectionate representation of lion in different mediums. The lion was seen continuing as subordinate imagery in Buddhist art of Tibet, Nepal and Shri Lanka, in Sri Lanka such mythicized lion being its emblem on the national flag, it emerged, however, more powerfully in Devi iconography and was often represented also independently. Not for fear but love and curiosity lion has always evoked great reverence in people’s minds.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of ancient Indian literature. Dr Daljeet is the chief curator of the Visual Arts Gallery at the National Museum of India, New Delhi. They have both collaborated on numerous books on Indian art and culture.