Burma is in all probability the most Buddhist country in Asia if not the whole world. Burma’s belief is so deeply rooted that almost all important decisions should have the guidance and approval of the auspicious stars and other superstitious signs. Not only that, Burma, just like its other neighbouring countries also has its share of mythical creatures that can only be fascinating. These strange figures are apparent on the steps of the temples and pagodas. Some are mentioned in plays and literature. And some if not all, are being handed down from generation to generation in a form of a story designed to avoid bad luck and attract good karma.
The chinthe would often come in pairs as they are the guardians of the pagodas or temples. They would be depicted as animals but would sometimes have human faces. The powerful lion-like stance would guard the temples as well as notably be diplayed on the kyat, Burma’s currency. Folklore has it that a princess of long ago married a lion and bore him a son. The princess for an unknown reason left the lion and raised the child alone. The child grew up and while he was hunting, he spotted a lion and killed it not knowing it was his father. He found out much later and deeply regretted his actions. As an honour to his father, he placed a statue of a lion outside the temple
Belu is a local term for demon or an ogre and certainly the depictions would support that. The belu are considered dangerous spirits. Some of its characteristics are human like except for the long fangs that grows in its mouth giving it snarling, frightening expression. They are also shapeshifters and said to be maneaters. They are naturally the antagonists in stories and plays. It is a counterpart variation of the Hindu’s Rakshasas. The belu would also appear portions of the Burmese version of the Ramayana.
The naga is a terrifying snake-like creature. It can be both generous as well as dangerous depends if you are favoured by it or not. They are considered earthly creatures with the characteristic to swim in the ground as if they are in the water. They can also shape shift and fly. You would see sculptures of these serpents flanking the steps of pagodas or temples.
The galon is a giant bird-like creature. It is very similar to that of India’s garuda. The galon and naga stories often interconnect as they are considered traditional enemies by the Burmese folklore. Statues and paintings would sometimes see the two clashing and fighting. The galon is described as having the upper part of its body like a man with a beak in its face that would appear human. They are fierce and intelligent.
The mythical creature that is pyinsa rupa is a hybrid of five animals. It has the long trunk of an elephant, the thick scales of a carp fish, the tough wings of a dragon, and the sharp fangs of a lion on top of a body of a deformed horse. Interestingly, the pyinsa rupa is the mascot of Myanmar’s International Airlines.