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The Merlion : Symbol of Singapore

Merlion has become a mascot of Singapore Tourism Board.  It personifies Singapore.  To understand how it got its name, one needs to understand how Singapore was named.  Many cities have unofficial nicknames like The Big Apple (New York), Sin City (Las Vegas), The Windy City (Chicago), The City of Angels (Los Angels), The Pink City (Jaipur) and so on.  Few of them sound even romantic and poetic like The City Of Love (Paris).  Its almost like French believe they invented love.  Singapore too is unofficially called The Little Red Dot or The Lion City.

Singapore was earlier called Temasek (Sea Town in Old Javanese), a small fishing village.  There are many stories on how it got its new name.  The most famous one is when Sang Nila Utama, a prince from Palembang landed on this island he saw a strange looking beast with orange body, black head and white neck breast.  He thought it was a lion and felt it to be a good omen .  He stayed on the island and decided to build a city.  He renamed Temasek as Singapura.  Singa in Malay means Lion (which is derived from Sanskrit Simha) and Pura means City.  Thus the name “Lion City”.  He ruled Singapore for 48 years and was buried at the foot of Bukit Larangan (today known as Fort Canning Hill).  However recent studies showed that there were no lions in Temasek during those days so what he mistook for a lion must have been a Malayan Tiger ! Oops.

Merlion (Mer meaning Sea) has a lion head and a fish body resting on waves.  The lion’s body symbolizes rediscovery of Singapore city and Fish represents its origins as a fishing village when it was called Temasek.


Lion head symbol is also chosen as an alternative logo of Singapore.  It symbolizes courage, strength, excellence as well as resilience to face challenges.  Its tenacious mane symbolizes the nation’s single minded goal to rise against any challenges and overcome any obstacles.

Raffles MRT is the nearest MRT to visit Merlion.  One can notice that there are two merlions diametrically opposite to each other.  The second one is a small cub 2 meters tall standing behind the original statue.  The original Merlion has 320 scales over the body and is 60 meter above the sea level.  There are five merlions recognized by Singapore tourism board.  Two of which is in Merlion Park mentioned above.  The other three are at Sentosa, Tourism Court and Faber Point.

Merlion Cub and Merlion.jpg

Merlion Cub.jpg

Left of the Merlion gives you views of Esplanade Theater (designed in the shape of durian) Straight ahead you notice the famous Sail, Singapore Flyer and Art Science Museum.

View from Merlion.jpg

Hundreds of visitors visit Merlion day and night.  The best views of Merlion will be early morning during sunrise or during sunset.  At night, eyes and scales of the merlion glows.  The day I landed Singapore, I rushed to see the Merlion.  Merlion is symbolic of Singapore, much like the delicacy Chilli Crab. You cannot go out of the country without a photo of the Merlion.  I was shocked to see that it didn’t pour water that day.  Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?  Merlion without water, I was so disappointed. Apparently, there was some malfunction in the motor pump.  I captured the photograph below as a reminder to that disappointment!

Merlion without water.jpg

Few days later was Singapore’s 50th national day celebration.  We went to Marina Bay Sands and that’s when I saw the original Merlion as they show on television.  What a beauty!

Merlion Front View.jpg

Fun Fact: In 2009, Merlion got hit by lightning causing parts of the statue to fall near a group of startled visitors.  Poor Simba got hit Yikes !

Disclaimer: Photograph below is a fictional representation of the event and not the actual photograph !!


But the damage was rectified and Simba was back in action.

Copyright ©2016, Lakshmi Nair . This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.


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