SuanNi/狻猊: The Majestic Mythical Beast of Chinese Legend

SuanNi/狻猊: The Majestic Mythical Beast of Chinese Legend

Suan Ni, the lion-like creature originating from ancient Chinese mythology and legends: the fifth son among the “Nine Sons of the Dragon”. It symbolizes power, bravery, and wealth, enjoys tranquility over activity, prefers sitting, appreciates the ambiance of smoke and fire, and is often used to adorn the base of incense burners.

Origins and Mythology of Suan Ni

Suan Ni first appeared in ancient Chinese texts and art. Typically depicted as a lion-like creature, it has distinctive physical characteristics. In ancient Chinese culture, it symbolized power, valor, and wealth, often found in palaces, temples, and the tombs of nobles, signifying protection and warding off evil.

Description and Symbolism

Suan Ni is known for its varied depictions, commonly featuring the body of a lion, spiral horns, and a mane resembling flames. Across different dynasties and art forms, its appearance varies but its symbolic essence remains consistent.

Suan Ni’s imagery is widespread in ancient Chinese sculptures, paintings, ceramics, and architectural decorations. These artworks not only showcase its diversity but also reflect the exquisite craftsmanship of ancient artisans.

Suan Ni in Ancient Texts

Resembling a lion, with nine tails, eyes like torches, consuming humans



Suan Ni, resembling a leopard cat, preys on tigers and leopards.



Suan Ni in Modern Culture

The Suan Ni has roughly three main uses. Firstly, it serves as the mount or guardian beast for Buddhas or Bodhisattvas. Legend has it that Suan Ni, fond of smoke and fire, and patient in nature, was chosen by the Buddha as a mount, placed beneath him during meditation. Secondly, Suan Ni is considered an auspicious beast. As a guardian beast, it is seen as an auspicious creature, bringing good fortune and warding off evil. It gradually found widespread use in architectural decoration, folk festivals, and copper mirror patterns. Thirdly, it is employed to ward off evil, protect tombs, guard palace gates, and residences. Recognizing the supreme power of the lion’s roar, people in the Sui and Tang dynasties used its stone carvings to guard tombs, ward off evil, or symbolize authority.

Among the nine sons of the dragon, the fifth son, Suan Ni, stands out as a unique figure. Its appearance is similar to a lion, strong and mighty, but its temperament is contrary to its appearance. Unlike the Qiu Niu, obsessed with music, Yazi, fond of knives and swords, or Taotie, enjoying food, Suan Ni prefers tranquility. This tranquility is not the modern concept of being a ‘homebody’ but rather a serene, content, and self-sufficient calmness.

The majestic presence of lions, including the Suan Ni, has integrated into the life of the Chinese nation. In Chinese Buddhist sculpture art, the lion’s form has evolved with regions and eras. The later the era of the sculpture, the closer to the central plains, the more distinctive the sinicized form becomes, creating a completely new Chinese-style Buddhist lion image. By the Ming Dynasty, the concept of the dragon having nine sons emerged, and the ancient name of the lion, Suan Ni, was associated as one of the dragon’s nine sons. As the original image of the lion was often related to religion, the association of Suan Ni with the love of incense and its placement on incense burners became prevalent.

Suan Ni and Feng Shui

  1. Fearless Authority: In Feng Shui, Suan Ni holds the role of fearless authority. Initially, there were few records about the appearance of Suan Ni, but later, in the “Er Ya,” its appearance was described as strikingly similar to a lion: “Suan Ni, resembling a leopard cat, preys on tigers and leopards.” This mythical creature, with a majestic appearance and courageous nature, is endowed with the symbolism of fearlessness and authority in Feng Shui. Suan Ni is often used as decoration for Buddha seats, architectural embellishments, etc., aiming to suppress malevolent forces. This imparts a sense of majesty to Buddhist settings or structures, creating an aura of nobility and contributing to the enhancement of wealth and prosperity.
  2. Warding Off Evil and Blocking Malevolent Energies: Suan Ni plays a role in warding off evil and blocking malevolent energies in Feng Shui. As a formidable mythical beast, resembling a lion in appearance and character, capable of devouring tigers and leopards, Suan Ni is known for its tranquil demeanor. In Feng Shui, it is often employed in various forms such as incense burners, ceramics, and architectural decorations to achieve the purpose of suppressing malevolent forces and warding off evil. This Feng Shui creature is widely embraced by the public for its effectiveness in deflecting negativity and ensuring auspicious energy flow.

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