Buddhist Statues 4:

Guardian Lions and Dogs


Buddhist temples in Japan often have Shishi (lions) and Komainu (Korean dogs) guarding the entrance or standing guard over particular effigies. They are nearly always in pairs, and frequently one has its mouth open while the other has its mouth closed. The open mouth is supposed to be expelling evil spirits, while the closed-mouthed one is supposed to be keeping good spirits in. Alternatively they are pronouncing the first and last part of the sacred syllable "aum", which is adapted in Japan to the first and last sounds of the Japanese syllabary ("a" and a sound like "ng", but often pronounced with the mouth closed). These days, these guardians are usually made of stone and stand in the grounds of the temple or shrine. In earlier times, though, they were made of wood and formed part of the internal decoration of the shrine.



I'm still having difficulty distinguishing between Shishi and Komainu, but these (I think!) are classic Shishi, made of wood and painted red and gold. They are just 6.5 cm (2.6 inches) long, and one is 6.5 cm. (2.6 inches) high, slightly taller than the other, which is 6 cm. (2.4 inches) high. They were made with a tongue at the back to slot into a groove on an end-beam (see picture, right). I'm a bit confused about how they would have been mounted, though. The side that is cut flush (i.e., the side showing on the left-hand lion above) would presumably have rested on the inside of the beam, while the other side (the side showing on the right-hand lion above) would presumably have overhung the edge of the beam. If they were mounted at opposite ends of the beam (or at the front ends of parallel beams) one would expect the smooth side to be on opposite sides of the figures, but they are both smooth on the right-hand side. They also both have the left paw raised (see picture below)




To clarify what I was getting at about mounting the first pair, take a look at this pair. They are designed as I would expect, with the opposite paw resting on a ball, so as to be a mirror image of each other when mounted at the opposite ends of a beam (or at the ends of two parallel beams). They're about 7 cm. (2.8 inches) long, and the one on the left, above, is 14.5 cm. (5.8 inches) high, half a centimetre (0.2 inches) higher than the one on the right. They are carved from a single block of wood, including the base.



This pair is not made to be mounted, though they have a couple of holes driven diagonally down into the base (see picture, right), by which they were presumably nailed or pegged in place. They are carved from a single block of wood, including the base, and stand 13.5 cm. (5.6 inches) and 13 cm. (5.4 inches) high respectively. I don't know whether they are Komainu or just a different type of Shishi...


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