Monday, January 23, 2012

The Lion Dance - Happy Lunar New Year!

Chinese New Year and the lion dance 1

Chinese New Year and the lion dance 2

As a kid, I was terribly afraid of the lion dance. I would cower behind my parents everytime the lion ‘prowled’ the corridor of our flat. To make matters worse, the cacophony of loud blasting noises certainly doesn’t help my cause either. My parents warned me that if I misbehaved, the lion would eat me up in just one painless sweep.

Fortunately, I overcame the fear in the later stage of life when I realized that I was too big for the lion to gobble me up whole. And, as logic has it, I eventually found out that the lion was actually manned by humans. Soon, with the din and the incomprehensible dancing movements, I found the lion dance to be greatly annoying.

Greatly annoying, simply because I was ignorant.

You see, ignorance is not always bliss, especially in a multi-racial society like ours. So, I began reading up on the significance of lion dance; aptly themed in the drawing above. :)

My bro and I termed the lion dance as ‘Tong-Tong-Chia’, and with reason. The ‘Tong’ is the closest resemblance we could ever came up with to the sound of the drum/gong, while Chia = cymbals. Instruments-wise, that’s almost basically there is to accompany the lion dance.

The aim of the lion dance is to ward off evil spirits and to usher in fortune and luck.

According to Chinese beliefs, evil spirits are frightened by loud noises; hence the ruckus. Traditionally, firecrackers would be set off to amplify the effect, but it was deemed to be too dangerous here. In addition, a mirror is also attached on the lion’s forehead to repel negative energy back at them.

Honestly, I could see their efficacy now. Not only did it manage to scare of the evil spirits, it did manage to put the devilish little me in my place as well.

Called the ‘Cai Qing’, the lion then has to skillfully maneuver its way to reach for the green vegetables hanging by a string. But it doesn’t mean that the lion has gone vegetarian in any way. On the contrary, it’s actually hunting for the big fat blood-red hang bao contained within the lettuce. It will swallow both and regurgitate only the greens to signify abundance and wealth to herald in the New Year.

However, I doubt this is practiced when the lion is making its house-visit rounds. After the rousing performance, all I could ever see is people giving out red packets by ‘spoon-feeding’ them into its mouth instead. I am not aware if this is still practiced at the shop floor or any other spacious places to try out some stunts. I would certainly love to watch it live in action tomorrow, along with chicks in Cheongsam galore, too!

Speaking about stunts, the lion dance is synchronized with the Chinese martial arts, usually Wushu or Kung Fu. Because of the acrobatic and strenuous nature of the lion dance, only the advanced students can perform and learn the art. However it is not merely back flips and splits, the essence of the lion dance is to successfully display the expressions of the lion through the movements of the eyes and mouth.

Finally, I just got to learn that the color of the lion has also symbolic meanings, something that I was oblivious to when drawing the pic. The Golden lion represents liveliness (as of the drawing above); the red lion represents courage; and the green lion represents friendship (not ketupat or Hari Raya).

Ok there you have it, a summary of the lion dance, put together to the best of my knowledge. Please do point out where I might be mistaken. And maybe too, it’s time to learn more about the Malay culture; it really helps to know more about one another. Cause for the last time, Hari Raya Aidilfitri does not commemorate the Malay New Year.

Till then, may the new lunar new year brings wealth, prosperity, good health, and dragon babies aplenty all year round!

Huat ah!

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