Arte-Factual: Gilded Chinthe

With Rise of the Tomb Raider still months away from release, the endless-runner mobile game Lara Croft: Relic Run has provided fans with their much-needed fix of Crofty goodness. Relic Run hasn’t just provided me with hours of entertaining gameplay and amusing rag-doll deaths; it’s also offered me a whole new selection of artefacts to write about for this site.

So let’s take a look at one of the 20 relics from the game’s Jungle Temple level, the Gilded Chinthe.

The gilded chinthe figure found in Relic Run's Jungle Temple level
The gilded chinthe figure found in Relic Run’s Jungle Temple level. Image credit: Kelly M.

Chinthes are mythical leonine creatures – or leogryphs – that can be found at the entrances to Buddhist temples and pagodas across Southeast Asia, including Angkor Wat. Similar to the shī (獅) lions guarding China’s imperial palaces or their Japanese counterparts, the komainu (狛犬), chinthes may have dog or dragon-like features and are usually found in pairs.

While Relic Run’s Jungle Temple level is thought to be set in Cambodia, these mythical guardians are usually associated with Burmese culture and Burmese royalty, and they are one of the national symbols of Myanmar.** Chinthes can be found on the country’s currency , past and present. Bronze weights cast in the shape of these leonine creatures were once central to the Burmese economy and were used for weighing food, metals, precious stones, and even opium.

A pair of chinthes at the entrance to a pagoda in Myanmar
A pair of chinthes at the entrance to a pagoda in Myanmar. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The chinthe’s role as a guardian creature stems from an old Burmese legend. According to this legend, there was once a princess was expelled from the palace and driven into the forest. She mated with a lion there and gave birth to a son. But when she eventually returned to the palace, she took her son with her. The lion was heartbroken.

In some versions of the legend, the heartbroken lion grew furious and began to terrorise the land. All versions of the legend seem to agree, however, that the prince grew up and took it upon himself to slay the lion. It was only when he returned home triumphant that he discovered the lion was, in fact, his father. So in a desperate attempt to atone for his sins, he had chinthe statues erected at every temple and sacred site in honour of his dead father.

Chinthe statues in Last Revelation's Angkor Wat
Chinthe statues in Last Revelation’s Angkor Wat. Image credit: Kelly M.

What the gilded chinthe in Relic Run’s Jungle Temple means for Lara is anyone’s guess. All I can say is its protective powers did absolutely nothing to save our heroine from becoming T-Rex chow over and over again.

** Many of the relics found in Relic Run’s Jungle Temple level actually stem from traditional Malay, Vietnamese, and Burmese culture. While all of these countries share certain cultural symbols and beliefs, I suspect the developers set the level in Cambodia because it was a location already known to Tomb Raider fans.


Sources & Further Reading:

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If you enjoyed this article and want to learn more about the art and artefacts seen in the Tomb Raider games, feel free to check out the other articles listed in the “Arte-Factual” archive.

About Kelly M

Kelly McGuire is a writer, part-time translator, and gamer who is passionate about archaeology, language learning, travel, and wildlife conservation. She tweets under the username @TRHorizons and is the admin and chief content creator for Tomb Raider Horizons.

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