The Merlion (Malay: Singa-Laut) is a mythical creature with the head of a lion and the body of a fish, used as a mascot of Singapore. Its name combines "mer" meaning the sea and "lion". The fish body represents Singapore's origin as a fishing village when it was called Temasek, which means "sea town" in Javanese. The lion head represents Singapore's original name — Singapura — meaning "lion city" or "kota singa".

The symbol was designed by Fraser Brunner, a member of the Souvenir Committee and curator of the Van Kleef Aquarium, for the logo of the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) in use from 26 March 1964 to 1997 and has been its trademarked symbol since 20 July 1966. Although the STB changed their logo in 1997, the STB Act continues to protect the Merlion symbol. Approval must be received from STB before it can be used. The Merlion appears frequently on STB-approved souvenirs.

The merlion— a mythical creature with the body of a fish and the head of a lion— occurs in a number of different artistic traditions. Lions with fishtails can be found on Indian murals at Ajanta and Mathura, and on Etruscan coins of the Hellenistic period. Merlions, or ‘heraldic sea- lions’, are an established element of Western heraldry, and have been used on the coat of arms of the cities of Portsmouth and Great Yarmouth in the United Kingdom; the City of Manila; and the East India Company.

Merlion statues

These five Merlions in Singapore are the only ones recognized by the STB:

  • The 8.6-metre-tall original statue at Merlion Park
  • The two-metre-tall cub statue standing behind the original statue
  • The 37-metre-tall gigantic replica — with Mouth Gallery Viewing Deck on the ninth storey, another viewing gallery on its head and The Merlion Shop — at Sentosa Island
  • The three-metre-tall glazed polymarble statue at Tourism Court (near Grange Road) completed in 1995
  • The three-metre-tall polymarble statue placed on Mount Faber's Faber Point

In addition a recognized Merlion statue is found at the Merlion Restaurant in Cupertino in California, USA.

Original statue

On 15 September 1972, then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew officiated the installation ceremony of the Merlion statue. The original Merlion statue used to stand at the mouth of the Singapore River, at the tip of the current The Fullerton Waterboat House Garden with Anderson Bridge as its background. The Merlion is a male.

It was conceptualised by the vice-chancellor of the University of Singapore (now known as National University of Singapore) then, Kwan Sai Kheong. Made from November 1971 to August 1972 by the late Singapore sculptor, Mr Lim Nang Seng, it measures 8.6 metres high and weighs 70 tons. Its body is made of cement, skin from porcelain plates and eyes from small red teacups. The project cost about S$165,000.

The completion of the Esplanade Bridge, in 1997, blocked the views of the Merlion from the Marina Bay waterfront. By then, the original Merlion location was also no longer the entrance of Singapore River. So, in 2002, the statue and its cub were relocated 120 metres to the current Merlion Park that fronts Marina Bay where it stands on a newly reclaimed promontory in front of The Fullerton Hotel.

Another solution considered—to raise the Merlion on a pedestal at its original location—was deemed unsuitable as the view would still be blocked by the bridge. Other possible relocation sites considered included Nicoll Highway Extension Bridge, Esplanade Park, Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay, a promontory at Marina Centre (near where Singapore Flyer is located now), a promontory site at Bayfront (near the tip of Marina Bay Sands integrated resort) and Kim Seng Park. However, all were either unsuitable or not technically feasible.

The unprecedented feat of relocation began on April 23, 2002, and finished on April 25. A carefully engineered journey required one barge, two DEMAG AC1600S cranes of 500 tonnes lifting capacity, plus a team of 20 engineers and workers on site. The entire statue was hoisted onto the barge, which then sailed to the new installation site at the current Merlion Park, near the mouth of Singapore River. During the voyage, the statue had to be hoisted from the barge, over the Esplanade Bridge and then back onto the barge, as it was too tall to pass underneath.

Exactly 30 years after it was officially launched, then-Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew returned on 15 September 2002 to ceremonially welcome the Merlion again — this time in its new home. A viewing deck now stretches over the Singapore River, allowing visitors to pose for a photograph with a front or side view of the Merlion, including a new city skyline backdrop in the picture. The sculpture was aligned to face East, a direction advised to be most auspicious. Relocated, the statue once more spouted water from its mouth, having stopped in its old location since 1998 due to a water pump malfunction. The Merlion now has a new two-unit water pump system with units working alternatively, so a partner is always on standby. The relocation and new site (four times larger than the original) cost S$7.5 million.

From 5 June till 10 July 2006, the Merlion at Merlion Park underwent maintenance. The last one was right after its relocation. Dirt and stains were removed using high-pressure water streams, and various wear and tear of the statue was mended.

During that period, visitors were greeted with illustrated hoardings and canvases covering the safety nets and scaffolding. The illustrations were designed by Miel, an award-winning senior artist at The Straits Times. The illustration on the canvases made them look like shower curtains, with the Merlion sticking its head out with the shadow of its tail behind the curtain. The illustration on the hoardings showed the Merlion scrubbing himself with a brush and showering using a Merlion shower head spouting water. The Merlion said "EXCUSE while i take a shower …" in a speech bubble.

The Merlion on Sentosa was designed and sculpted by an Australian Artist called James Martin. It is made of Glass Reinforced Cement (GRC) over a steel armature that is attached to the centre

Other Merlion statues

Due to the influence of overseas Singaporeans, Singapore investors and friends of the country, variations of the Merlion statue can be found in Japan, China and the United States of America.

Merlion damage by lightning

On Saturday, February 28, 2009 at about 4.26 pm the Merlion in the Merlion Park was struck by lightning. A breaking news from 938LIVE local radio showed an image with fragments from the Merlion's head on the ground.

Examination of the damage was done quickly with wooden scaffolding set up on Sunday, March 1, 2009 for workers to take a closer look at the hole. The incident happened as a result of the lack of lightning protection on the Merlion itself.

Merlion souvenirs

A wide variety of Merlion souvenirs are sold at tourist areas in Singapore. Some form of Merlion souvenirs include:

  • Display model, with smaller ones doubling up as paperweights
  • Mini soft toy keychains or mobile phone charms
  • Picture frames
  • Refrigerator magnets
  • Soft toys
The Merlion in art and popular culture
In anime
  • The merlion appeared in the influential anime Cowboy Bebop (episodes 18 and 24), where its appearance in an ancient home movie offers Singaporean amnesiac bounty hunter Faye Valentine a clue to her true origins.
  • The Merlion featured heavily in Hajime Satō's (佐藤 肇, Satō Hajime) reimagining of Shinjuku in the 2005 anime, Karas.
  • The Merlion has also appeared in Seitokai no Ichizon.
  • The Merlion is featured in episode 11 of Japanese light novel, Seitokai no Ichizon.
  • The Merlion is seen in special episode 1 of the manga, Hidamari Sketch.
    • The Merlion appears when the lady landlord is searching for an apartment key in Episode 10 of Hidamari Sketch X: "Hoshimittsu".
In decoration and insignia
  • A merlion can be seen on the Crest of the 8th Marine Regiment of the United States Marine Corps.
  • The Merlion is the chosen motif for Number 92 Wing located at RAAF Base Edinburgh, South Australia. The Merlion was chosen for its skills as a maritime hunter patrolling the seas without fear nor failure as it prosecutes its prey.
In gaming
  • The Merlion can also be seen in the popular video game Animal Crossing for the Nintendo GameCube, and its sequals, as a decoration.
  • The Merlion can be summonned in the DS game, Scribblenauts and Super Scribblenauts.
In literature
  • Edwin Thumboo cemented the iconic status of the Merlion as a personification of Singapore with his poem Ulysses by the Merlion in 1979. Due to Thumboo's status as Singapore's unofficial poet laureate and the nationalistic mythmaking qualities of his poetry, future generations of Singaporean poets have struggled with the symbol of the Merlion, frequently taking an ironical, critical, or even hostile stand - and pointing out its artificiality and the refusal of ordinary Singaporeans to accept a tourist attraction as their national icon. The poem "attracted considerable attention among subsequent poets, who have all felt obliged to write their own Merlion (or anti-Merlion) poems, illustrating their anxiety of influence, as well as the continuing local fascination with the dialectic between a public and a private role for poets, which Thumboo (as Yeats before him, in the Irish context) has wanted to sustain as a fruitful rather than a tense relation between the personal and the public." Among the poems of this nature are "Merlign" by Alvin Pang and "Love Song for a Merlion" by Vernon Chan. More recent poems include "Merlion: Strike One" by Koh Buck Song in the 2009 anthology, Reflecting on the Merlion.
  • Merlions as a species were fictional characters in Gwee Li Sui's Myth of the Stone (1993), the first full-length graphic novel published in Singapore. They were depicted as calm and wise creatures that fought on the side of good and eventually overcame the dreaded Kraken. Gwee further popularised the iconoclastic image of the spitting Merlion in the early 1990s. It reappeared later with his well-loved poem "Propitiations" in his book of poems Who Wants to Buy a Book of Poems? (1998).
As mascots and performance characters
  • For the inaugural Singapore 2010 Summer Youth Olympics, a pair of mascots, Lyo and Merly, were introduced. Merly is a "Merlion-ess cub" based on the Merlion. Her hair is inspired by the lion top half while her fish half is represented in light-blue scales on her body. Unlike the actual merlion, she has hands and legs instead of a tailfin.
  • The Merlion appeared in the Magical Sentosa show awakening at the last scene and shining a laser beam.(Similar to the storyline of the Songs of the Sea show.)
In parlance
  • Singaporeans often substitute the term "Merlion" in lieu of vomiting, in reference of the constant gushing of water from the Merlion's mouth. It is now used by Singaporean medical staff as slang for a patient who has intractable vomiting.
In restaurants
  • There is a famous restaurant in Gainesville, Florida named after the Merlion, which serves vegetarian food from Singapore.
  • Similarly, the critically acclaimed Singapore Merlion restaurant in Coolangatta, Queensland, (known colloquially by residents as "John's") is named after the Merlion.
In sculpture
  • A small Merlion, complete with a plaque giving information about the original statues, forms part of the decoration in the "Mystic East" area of British theme park Chessington World of Adventures.
  • The Merlion was featured– or, depending on point of view, not featured– during the 2005 Venice Biennale in the controversial work "Mike" by artist Lim Tzay Chuen. He had proposed taking the sculpture in the Merlion Park to the Singapore Pavilion at the exhibition, but was refused by the authorities .

Coordinates: 1°17′13.28″N 103°51′16.88″E / 1.2870222°N 103.8546889°E / 1.2870222; 103.8546889

Other similar statues
  • The carp statue, in front of Chenghuang Temple, Hsinchu|Chenghuang Temple (城隍廟; Chénghuáng Miào) in Hsinchu City, Taiwan.

Building Activity

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