With Rise of the Tomb Raider still months away from release, the endless-runner mobile game Lara Croft: Relic Run has provided Tomb Raider fans with their much-needed fix of Crofty goodness. Relic Run has not only provided me with hours of entertaining gameplay and amusing ragdoll deaths; it’s also offered me a whole new selection of artefacts to feature on this blog.
So let’s kick things off by looking at one of the 20 relics from the game’s Jungle Temple level, the Gilded Chinthe.
Chinthes are mythical leonine creatures (or leogryphs) that can be found at the entrances to Buddhist temples and pagodas across Southeast Asia, including Angkor Wat. Similar to the shī (獅) lions guarding China’s imperial palaces or their Japanese counterparts, the komainu (狛犬), chinthes may have dog or dragon-like features and are usually found in pairs. While Relic Run’s Jungle Temple level is thought to be set in Cambodia, these mythical guardians are primarily associated with Burmese culture, particularly with Burmese royalty, and are one of the national symbols of Myanmar.** Chinthes can be found on the country’s currency (both past and present) and bronze weights cast in the shape of these leonine creatures were once central to the Burmese economy; these were used for weighing food, metals, precious stones, and even opium.
The chinthe’s role as a guardian creature stems from an old Burmese legend. According to the legend, a princess was expelled from a palace and driven into the forest. While there, she mated with a lion and gave birth to a son. But when she eventually returned to the palace, taking her son with her, the lion was heartbroken. In some versions of the legend, it’s said that the lion grew furious and began to terrorize the land but all versions of the legend seem to agree that the prince grew up and took it upon himself to slay the lion. It was only when he returned home triumphant that he discovered the lion was, in fact, his father. So in a desperate bid to atone for his crime, he had chinthe statues erected at every temple and sacred site in honour of his dead father.
What the gilded chinthe’s presence in the Jungle Temple means for Lara is anyone’s guess but all I can say is its protective powers did nothing to save our heroine from becoming T-Rex chow over and over again…
** Many of the relics found in the Jungle Temple level actually stem from traditional Malay, Vietnamese, and Burmese culture. While all of these countries share certain cultural symbols and beliefs, I suspect the developers set the level in Cambodia because it was a location already known to fans of the Tomb Raider games and films.
Sources & Further Reading:
- A Burmese Enchantment by C.M. Enriquez, Ithaca (1916)
- Burmese Bronze Weights (Powerhouse Museum)
- Burmese Chinthe (Flickr photo gallery)
- Chinthe (Wikipedia)
- Chinthe - Burma’s Mythical Lion, What is it called in Khmer? (AsiaFinest.Com)
- Chinthes in Myanmar (Wikimedia Commons)
- Myanmar/Burma Myths (Cornell University)
- National Symbols of Myanmar (Burma) (MyanmarBurma.Com)
- The Chinthe Story (Shwechinthe Birmans)
- Arte-Factual: Apsaras, the Celestial Dancers of Hindu Myth (Tomb Raider 3)
- Arte-Factual: Ban Chiang Pottery (Tomb Raider 2013)