Asiatic Lion | Persian Lion | Indian Lion | Fu Dog Ancestory

In Historical Slant postings, India-heavy posts on February 12, 2009 at 12:12 pm


A lion is a lion right? Well, that’s not quite true. After looking up some of the information I found about Fu Dogs originating in India (how Fu Dogs were based on the Asiatic Lion) and finding some Lion images in ancient art that had interesting correlations to Fu Dogs, I decided to look up the Asiatic Lion. I didn’t really think about the Asiatic Lion differing from the African Lion, and yet it does. I read several interesting websites that presented a lot of compare-contrast information.


For example, the Asiatic Lion is overall a smaller lion (both male and female) – I mean it’s still a big cat, but not as large as its African cousin. I wouldn’t say that this smaller size is responsible for any other attributes that differ, but I would think that it makes the likelihood of a young lion being seen or interpreted as a large dog more probable.


Another difference between the males is that the Asiatic Lion has a mane that is closer-cropped, meaning the mane is oriented around the Asiatic Lions head in just the same fashion as the African, only not as bushy, not as long. This shorter (and as a consequence perhaps seemingly denser) mane on the Asiatic Lion could, I think, be suitably interpreted in art as a tighter, coiling/roiling mane that encircles the animals head and runs down its neck.


As a consequence of the Asiatic Lion’s mane being shorter, the ears are almost always visible, poking out through the mane. In some images that I saw the ears almost appear to be flopping over but I didn’t find any reference to the Asiatic lion, in general, trending towards having floppy ears. The ears just look like some big dogs ears, only plusher!


An incidental difference, that at present I don’t see relating to Fu Dogs, is that the Asiatic Lion has a fold (or flap) of flesh running longitudinally along its belly. It’s present on all Asiatic Lions – I could find no information as to why it’s there; no one even speculated its purpose and, like I’m doing, just mentioned it and moved on. Maybe it’s explained on a website or in a publication I didn’t visit.


Of the final three Asiatic vs African Lion differences (that I’ll mention, perhaps there are more), two are quite pointedly related to Fu Dog imagery. The one that doesn’t seem to apply is strange, like the fold of flesh – it seems the Asiatic Lion has a spiny spine at the end of its tail, hidden in the tails ‘tuft’ of hair. I haven’t seen a picture of it so I don’t know if it is a nub or a spike or a sharp dangerous thing or just an incidental ‘hey I have some bone at the end of my tail.’ Maybe, like the fold of flesh, it’s also explained on a website or in a journal I didn’t visit. If I discover more I’ll return and post it here.


The first of the two differences that seem Fu Dog related is that the Asiatic Lion has longer ‘tufts’ of hair coming off its elbows than does the African Lion. I had no idea such a thing existed; tufts of hair coming off the animal’s elbows. These tufts most likely, almost certainly, are the originating reason for the mysterious ‘wings’ that I noted in my last post – the wings that I didn’t understand coming off the stupa lion’s elbows. An artistic license was taken to ‘grow’ this feature into a stylistic device, at least that’s what I’m saying. And as such, the same license possibly could have been taken for Fu Dog imagery.


The second of the two is related to the first – the Asiatic Lion has a larger tuft of hair at its tail-tip than does the African Lion. This really goes hand in hand with the elbow tufts in creating a fanciful interpretation of the ‘accessory’ hair on a Fu Dog. Many times the tail will end in a large or elaborate flurry of hair that could be (and I’m going to say most likely is) directly related back to the Asiatic Lion’s larger tail tuft.


So, just looking back at what was listed as the source for Fu Dog imagery – only in terms of historic artistic precedence, was the tip of the iceberg. Sure, the representative lions I found in the art of ancient India did lend themselves to a vague sense of being the ancestors of Fu Dogs, but they didn’t give a foundation of why certain features became customary when creating a Fu Dog ‘in the round’ so to speak. Looking back from the artistic rendering of Asiatic Lions to the lions themselves was really surprising – the interpretive license taken to represent the lions and then the further artistic stylizations to reach that of a Fu Dog image now make a certain amount of sense.


The Fu Dog’s coiling and normally close-cropped mane, the exposed and malleable appearing ears, the flaring elbow tufts and the elaborate tail tuft interpretations – all are now visible to me as having concrete origins in the Asiatic Lion. This doesn’t even cover the standard Fu Dogs snarling, lion-like visage and standard lion-like paws, but those features do, simply by association, make sense as imagery imported from the source material – a lion.


If you want to find some information out about Asiatic Lions then look it up – there’s a lot of information out there on the internet. One sad note is that the Asiatic Lion is almost extinct with estimates of wild and captured/zoo animals numbering less than 500, total.The only wild ones in existense are in a reserve in Gir India having less than 1500 sqaure kilometers of land.


This information was copied to my History Page.

  1. I’m from Belgium, I’m doing some personal studies on this subject (Persian Lion sculpture BC), and agree with lot’s of your arguments on this article. I think that there has been lots o mutual artistic influence between, west Asia and north Africa during some millenium BC and still AD, and also with south Europe. All around the mediterranean and along the Indian Ocean from all south Asia into the lands of Asia, and from it. The key region is there between Asia and Africa because lot of commercials roads were passing by. Thanks for your article, like the blog!

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