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Old Screeds

The Manuthiha of Myanmar

I was researching wemics in India (screed coming soon) when I found, to my surprise, a Burmese wemic! In the mythology of Myanmar, there is a "man-lion" creature called "manu-thiha," or "manussiha," depending on how you translate it. It's worth noting that "Manu" means man and "Thiha" means lion, so this creature is a man-lion. Take a look:

Burmese manuthiha angle 1

I found these images at the website of an auction house. "Pair of Manuthiha" on the website of Galerie Zacke, Vienna. Presumably they have been sold, maybe to a private collector, and may never be seen again. Take a look from another angle.

Burmese manuthiha angle 2

You will at this point have noticed something. Four lion paws, good. Feline tail, yup. Human from the waist up. This is almost a textbook perfect lion-centaur. But wait! There are TWO feline lower bodies! TWO tails! Four paws in the back, and the human hands acting as forepaws in the front ... what the heck?!

So, yes, okay, not exactly the urmahlullu of Ancient Assyria. Not a sagittary prancing on the coat of arms of Stephen of Blois. Not even the cylinder seal goddess of the Ancient Harappan Indus Valley culture. These manuthiha are their own creatures, and we have to accept them as wemics -- or sibling wemics -- in their own right.

Check out this legend of the manuthiha taken from a Myanmar tourism website:

Many legends surround this manu-thiha and its origin. One of the most quoted is the one with its connections to the ancient kingdom of Suvana-bhumi now called Thaton. According to that legend King’s children were always devoured by an ogress and her one and a half thousand attendants on the day they were born. This tragedy went on for some time.

But one-day Buddhist missionary party of two Bikkhus Shin-soka and Shin-ottra appeared on the scene. That day happened to be the day on which the queen was expecting a son. The Buddhist bikkhus created three thousand strange creatures with human head and twin bodies of lions. When ogress and her attendants saw those creatures they ran back to their base in the sea underwater: needless to say the ogress and her attendants never returned to threaten the newborn prince again.

The child so saved became king in due course of time. He ordered the whole nation to draw the likeness of these manu-thiha on palm leaves and hang around the necks of their children to ward off the danger of the aggressive ogress. With passing of time, the creature found its way on to the terraces of temples and stupas.

Here's a manuthiha that dates to 600 AD, posing for a photo taken in 1852

Old Burmese manuthiha

Here's a manuthiha from the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar.

Shwedagon Pagoda manuthiha

For even more manuthiha images and lore, check out these links:

By sad random chance, as I type this, Myanmar is troubled by unrest and a military coup. Let's hope that the spirits of the manuthiha will do their good work to protect the people there once more.

Home | This post was researched and written in May and June 2021.