Thanks to ‘Save tigers’ campaign, not a mere slogan but a mission of many institutions : Central and all state governments – at least the states the tigers or lions are reported from, stringent laws, many media groups and NGOs and the common concern for the animal that they created, that in these years in India the lion population has almost doubled. A visit to a national park or sanctuary is now as much preferred as a visit to a hill-station, and a view, or expectation of viewing a tiger, is the main attraction of visiting a forest resort, national park or tiger sanctuary. With fear and romance-mixed curiosity the innocent eyes of children, when riding an open jeep across a tiger reserve, would search for a lion behind every patch of marshy grass and behind every low-height hedge – a tiger’s favourite resorts, though when a leaf surged, or a patch of grass waved, they would cling to their mothers’ necks; however, their eyes still fixed on the spot likely to have behind it a tiger and in their imaginative eye would emerge the majestic big cat with fire in eyes, awful but lovable they would like to play with. On the authority of their nursery books and teacher-ma’m they knew for sure that such marshy grasslands and hedged patches would not be without a tiger.
Not a mere motif , either as the lion capital of the Ashokan columns, the Indian subcontinent’s most glorious period in past, or on entire currency of independent India, the embodiment of Indian mind and thought lion has always been a message. It embodied India’s most fundamental values – humility, balance, non-violence, respect for life, not taking more than what one needed – ‘aparigraha’, one the highest principles of Indian theologies and the like. As regarded modern India, the lion-motif stood further for a mighty sovereign nation that believed in peaceful co-existence, respect for life and human values. Unlike the common perception, and despite entirely feeding on animal flesh, lion is never violent and does attack unless provoked or unless its own security is endangered. It does not resort to killing for things so often dragging human mind into blood-shed and violence : vanity, rage, enmity, revenge, rivalry, envy and even love, greed …
So mighty, a lion might kill a number of animals everyday but it will kill just one, stock its flesh, eat the same till it has ended and then shall wait for about three days before it moves to a fresh hunt. The cycle completes in about 15 days, the period during which a lion will not come out of its den. Thus, a lion kills just about two animals a month, about twenty to twenty-five in the year, and two hundred-fifty to three hundred in ten-twelve years life span. The number of animals killed for the food of a human being, feeding on animal flesh, is far greater. In this ‘aparigraha’ – not taking more than what it needs, there reflects its respect for life, a fundamental mind that evades killing, a mind that resorts to killing only to survive, and the mighty one’s humility that preserves life though eats stale food for about fifteen days – a strange commitment to life and balance. Thus, whatever our fears in regard to it, the lion has always been the icon of self-respect, grace and respect for life, and a perpetual theme of Indian art – architecture, sculpture, textile and coinage. Mythical literature is replete with legends of man’s children sporting with a cub and its parents, and even in these much polluted contemporary times, a lion in a zoo does not fail to recognize a savior who saved its life when just a new-born and for expressing its love and gratitude leans out of its cage for embracing him.
A building component, a stone sculpture, brass-cast, decorative artifact, or the Great Goddess’s mythical mount, or even a toy, this majestic monarch of the forest abounds in as much auspiciousness. As the lion-figure combined with majesty, auspiciousness and grace also valour, courage and protectiveness ancient and medieval architects had always preferred to design and construct entrances of shrines, castles, forts and royal palace with lion figures flanking the either side. The seats the kings sat on, or deities were installed on in the sanctum, were carried over lion-legs which gave them ‘simhasana’ – lion-seat, as their name. Sometimes lion figures were also used for defining a throne’s elbows. Now lion-icons, as these two, are the most loved decorative artifacts for a sitting hall. Cast in brass and anodized in copper, identical in anatomy, facial bearing, grace, robustness and seating posture, both are male lions, conceived for adorning a space in symmetry. A rare specie, the white ones that these statues represent being far rarer, the Giri forest in Gujarat is their better known home. Stylized modeling the two figures have been portrayed as seated with their forelegs straightened, hind ones, folded and collected under the hips, and tail secured over the back, a posture revealing readiness to charge at its prey. With partially open mouths as when laughing, deep penetrating eyes, normally shaped noses, elegantly turned lips, well set teeth except the awful fangs, well trimmed moustaches and mane, and alert ears, the faces of the two animals have been a bit humanized.
This description by Dr. Daljeet and Prof. P.C. Jain.