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The Merlion is a mythical creature and like most mythical creatures, its origins are shrouded in mystery. Actually, nobody really has a clue where it popped from. This creature with the body of a fish and the head of a lion can be found on Etruscan coins of the Hellenistic period and on Indian murals at Ajanta and Mathura; maybe that’s why Singapore holiday packages from India are so popular. These lions with fishtails or ‘heraldic sea- lions’, are an established element of Western heraldry, and have been used on the coat of arms of the cities of Portsmouth and Great Yarmouth in the United Kingdom; the City of Manila; and the East India Company.

Also recent studies show that lions have never existed on the island.

How exactly did the ‘Merlion’ end up as Singapore’s national symbol? Now you won’t find this on any Singapore Tourism Guide, but here are the most compelling theories.

In Sanskrit, ‘Singa’ means lion and ‘Pura’ means city. The island was originally called Temasek, Javanese for ‘Sea Town’. The story of Sang Nila Utama is most popularly accepted as the story of Singapore. The Sejarah Melayu proclaims him the first king of Suvarnabhoomi (ancient Sanskrit name of Malay peninsula), the son of an Indian Prince and a fairy princess who lived under the sea. From atop a hill on Bintan, he spotted an island with blinding white sand that intrigued him.

Singapore’s Merlion

He alighted on the island amidst a thunderstorm and spotted an auspicious beast identified as a lion by his chief minister who was on board his ship. And so he (re)named the island Singapura. In the darkness of the violent storm, we’ll forgive him for mistaking what was in all probability a Malay tiger to be a lion.

So, there’s some explanation for the lion part, but the fishtail, there’s no evidence of mermaids having existed on the island either!

According to other local annals, the Merlion was a huge monster that protected the inhabitants of ancient Singapore. In the face of any potential danger, the Merlion would emerge from the sea and save the settlement of Singapore from destruction, a little too far-fetched this one!

The explanation could be as simple as the fact that Temasek was originally a fishing village and the fishtail simply in remembrance of that. For all we know, it was simply a figment from the imagination of a certain Mr.Kwan Sai Kheong, who conceptualized it or maybe Mr.Lim Nang Seng, the sculptor of the original statue. Whatever the story, do not miss a photo op with this symbol of Singapore Tourism.

As the newest member of the content team, Shivangi Rajendran comes from the world of professional dancing. With a passion for travel and a flair for writing, the Masters in Mass Communication is just an added advantage. A gypsy at heart, she doesn’t believe in planning and is always ready to pack her bags and leave.

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