Ceramic lions could be better guardians of property than watchmen or guard dogs, particularly if intruders might be of the invisible variety.
Our friend and barber, Sunit, has just constructed a wall along the highway side of the property he and his sister share. He decided to mount guardian lions on the gate posts into the compound. A Buddhist priest from the neighborhood came with an assistant to “activate” the lions and initiate this new form of protection.
The process began with the priest seated in front of the four small statues, which were Chinese in character (rather than Burmese or Khmer), whereupon he lit incense sticks (but not candles, I noticed). The choice of Chinese figurines was to maintain a distinction between these lions and ones guarding the gates of temples. It is unseemly and inauspicious for private individuals to appropriate temple symbols.
The priest performed four sets of actions.
First he chanted from a script he had brought – indicating that the chant was prescribed but not frequently enough used that he had memorized it. His chanting was largely in colloquial Northern Thai language with Pali verses inserted a couple of times. The chant was a charge to the lions to perform their protective function for the houses and residents so they would have good health, prosperity, and safety from intrusions natural and supernatural. The chant ended by the priest producing a small sword about six inches long and a tiny one both of which he inserted into a glass of water infused with special pieces of tree bark. He used thrusting rather than stirring motions as he was holding the smallest knife and chanting. He told me later this was to “penetrate” the water with the extraordinary power of a Buddhist saint who used to own one or both of those knives and for whom the knife was now a surrogate. This turned the water intonaam-mon [see: http://www.kendobson.asia/blog/august-16th-2014 ]
Second, he inscribed 4 pieces of gold-colored foil, using an ornate wooden stick with a sharp point. Each of the pieces of foil was etched with a square box and then subdivided into either 9 or 4 squares. The squares were inscribed with numbers in old Lanna script. The nine squares were filled with numbers 1 through 9 in order, but the placement was in a special order which was the same for both pieces that contained 9 squares. Number 9 was in the place of honor in the middle. The priest told me that the 9 numbers represented 9 syllables in a verse calling for blessings from the Triple Gems of the Lord Buddha (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha), which he had intoned in a whisper as he etched the numbers in place. The two pieces of foil inscribed with 4 numbers represented “the heart of the lion”, the priest said, referring to an appellation of 4 syllables which he had chanted as he inscribed them. When he had finished, he chanted quietly (i.e. khathaa) while holding the 4 inscriptions close to his lips and then he solemnly blew on them.
Third, he turned his attention to the 4 gold and red painted statues. With a felt-tipped gold marker he wrote gold number nines on the chests of the four lions and then a more elaborate number on the bases between the front legs of each figurine. Then, using sprigs of leaves and flowers, he anointed the lions with naam-mon three times, and finally caressed each of their heads with his two hands. He was handed a cup of white lime paste [see:www.kendobson.asia/blog/summoning-prosperity] to which he added a few drops of naam-mon, without bothering to stir it. The preparation of the lions ended with him daubing a spot of paste onto the forehead of each lion. I think it might have been more spots if there had been room.
Fourth, the statues were placed on the gate posts. A bucket of cement was ready. In turn, the top of each post was covered with a finger-thick layer of cement. One of the foil inscriptions was placed in the middle of the cement and one of the lions was firmly set on top. Great attention was paid to the alignment so they were exactly straight and precisely centered. There was no chanting or ceremony as this was being done.
With that the project was complete.
Very few houses in our area have their gate posts adorned in this fashion. Electric lights are more common, but the majority of houses with front gates have nothing atop their posts. Perhaps Sunit was inspired by the incidence of several traffic accidents nearby on the new highway, resulting in at least two deaths, one of which, before the road was even finished, was right in front of his house.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.