What is a chinthe and why am I chasing it?

Chinthe on Inle Lake

Chinthe on Inle Lake

 

A chinthe is a leogryph or half lion half something else, usually a dog or human, that is often found in pairs guarding pagodas in Burma. The myth explaining the chinthe has certain similarities to the myth of Oedipus.

A princess fell in love with a lion and ran away with him, against her parents’ wishes. She had a son, but was soon tired of living with the dangers of the jungle, and was persuaded, eventually, to return to the King and Queen. They forgave her and she raised her son in peace inside the Palace. Outside the Palace walls, however, the lion was so angry he stalked her kingdom, wreaking havoc and destruction on her people for many years. When her son was of age, he wanted to please his dearly beloved mother, and knowing nothing of his birth, sought out the lion, and after a fierce fight, slew him. He went back to the Palace and told his mother of his great victory, only to see her look distraught, not pleased. Puzzled, he questioned her and found out  he had killed his father. He was then ashamed, so to atone for his sins he ordered that the pagoda should have a pair of Chinthes to guard the entrance, in honour of his father.

When I travelled to Burma in 2013 I was fascinated by the chinthe statues, and photographed every one I could find. Only after my return did I learn about the myth, which like all myths has many variations. Shortly after my return my father died, never knowing about the trip and my new interest in the family history. Since delving into family history is like chasing after myths, and the first Chinthe statues were a result of the love between father and child, I thought ‘Chasing Chinthes’ was a perfect name.

 

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