The Merlion

(image courtesy of National Archives)
Artist: 
Lim Nang Seng
Patron: 
Singapore Tourist Promotion Board (now Singapore Tourism Board)
entry: 

The Merlion has been the emblem of the Singapore Tourism Board since its establishment as the STPB in 1964. The statue with water fountain and piped music was designed from the logo of the Tourism Board by Kwan Sai Kheong, then Vice Chancellor of the University of Singapore, and Ambassador to the Philippines. Local artist Lim Nang Seng sculpted and built the statue, which was completed in August, 1972. It was officially installed by LKY on his birthday, 15th September, 1972, at a cost of S$ 165,000.

See 'Singapore Symbol: 26 foot high Merlion', Straits Times, 16 September, 1972

Read here for some extensive notes on the Merlion's history and its fish-lion symbolism.

Here follows the official word on the Merlion from the STB (from its website, circa 2001):

THE MERLION

Introduction

Over the years, the Merlion symbol has become well-known through its wide use and has come to be identified with Singapore.

The Merlion was first recommended for use as a crest of the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) - then known as the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board - on 26 March 1964. Mr Fraser Brunner a member of the Souvenir Committee and curator of the Van Kleef Aquarium, was the originator of the design. Registration of the Merlion as a trademark was finalised on 20 July 1966.

With the recent change of the Board's corporate identity in 1997, a new corporate logo was adopted. The Merlion, however , continues to be a symbol protected under the Singapore Tourism Board Act and the prior approval of the Board has to be obtained before the Merlion symbol can be used.

The Merlion and its Significance

The choice of the Merlion as a symbol for Singapore has its roots in history, The Merlion commemorates the ancient name and the legend taken from the 'Malay Annals' (literary and historical work from the 15th or 16th century) explaining how Singapore a received its present name.

In ancient times, Singapore was known as Temasek which is Javanese for the sea. It was then, as it is today, a center of trade. At the end of the 4th century A.D, Temasek was destroyed by the Siamese, according to some historians, but by the Javanese according to others. As recorded in the legend in the Malay Annals, Prince Nila Utama of the Sri Vijaya empire rediscovered the island later in the 11th century A.D. On seeing a strange beast (which he later learnt was a lion) upon his landing he named the island Singapura which is a Sanskirt word for Lion (Singa) City (Pura). The Merlion, with its fish-like body riding the waves of the sea, is symbolic of the ancient city of Temasek. At the same time, its majestic head recalls the legend of the discovery of Singapore by Prince Nila Utama in the 11th century, when Singapore received its present name.

The Merlion at the Singapore River

Today [ed note: 2001], the 26-foot Merlion is located at the mouth of the Singapore River on the tip of a small promontory which has been landscaped into an attractive little park complete with fountain. The entire project cost about $165,000. It was started in November 1971 and completed in August 1972. The Merlion project was conceived because it was felt that Singapore needed a distinctive symbol with which it can be identified. It was built by a local craftsman, Lim Nang Seng, who has won several prizes in the Singapore Handicraft and Design competition organised by the Board in 1970. The commemorative Bronze Plague for the Merlion bears the inscription: 'The Merlion has been erected as a symbol to welcome all visitors to Singapore'. It was formally installed at a ceremony on 15 September 1972 by Mr Lee Kuan Yew, then Prime Minister.

Location Notes: 

The Merlion was moved during the week of April 22nd, 2002. The operation involved removing the Merlion to a barge, lifting the sculpture from the barge to the Nicoll Highway Bridge, moving it from the bridge to the barge, now on the other side of the bridge, and then lifting it from the bridge to its new site, just off of the One Fullerton building. According to Channel News Asia, some 100 people watched the move onto and off of the bridge, at 3am on the morning of the 25th April. Japanese TV filmed the move. Here is a pdf file of the Straits Times graphic that explains the move.

Date Created: 
15 September 1972
First Placed in Singapore: 
1972
Current Location: 
Merlion Park II

Comments

Retire the Merlion!

It's boring, ancient, and does not reflect Singapore's progress. On the other hand, it's got lots of history (!!). See http://www.publicart.sg/?q=Retire-the-Merlion

Response to the Retire idea

Predictably, today's ST had plenty of letters from readers on the Merlion. Some real gems here, among them:

The Merlion is an icon of Singapore. It should not be removed. I feel the present Merlion is too small. I suggest building a bigger one at Marina Barrage which can be seen from afar, surrounded by a colourful musical fountain and a park.
- Ronald Teo

Perhaps we could shift the smaller Merlion nearer to the statue of Sir Stamford Raffles at the Singapore River to help explain some of the history of Singapore. Beside the Merlion, we could have a billboard with pictures to help explain the Merlion and its link to Temasek.
- Lim Poh Seng

Just as one would not get rid of a grandparent just because he is old, the Merlion should remain standing proud.
- Tan LM

Can anyone explain how a half-mermaid and half-lion suddenly popped up? If this is not a total bastardisation of a national historic symbol, I do not know what is. The correct national symbol, then, for Singapore is logically a lion with a red body, black head and white breast <<????>> - definitely not some concocted half-fish with a lion's head.
- Jason Wang Yueh Ming

http://www.straitstimes.com/Life%2521/LifeMailbag/Story/STIStory_725843....

10 Gloriously Cheesy Merlion Artworks

Thanks to Yi-Sheng for remembering all of these, and cataloging them so sensitively! See the original article here, on thecanvas.sg, and the continuation here.

Photos of Merlion under construction posted to NAS PICAS

Not sure when it was posted, sometime in the last five years or so, but National Archives' PICAS site now has some pix from SPH showing the Merlion under construction. I saw a print out at John Low's fascinating installation at the Singapore Biennale, "I have been skying..." And here's one! Cool!

Supermerlion

It's great that you are providing an accurate history of the Singapore Merlion as opposed to the fictional stories sold to tourists.

Ever glow

I hope to see more discussion on the glow on the merlion. Because it doesn't look to appear dull at all times. The color white simply glows.