Open Your Eyes and Wake Up!
I may have mentioned before that lions are seen as agents of heaven, used to frighten evil spirits away and bring a blessing to those for whom it performs. Before it can do that however it needs to be blessed or awakened by going through a special ceremony known as the Dim Jing (點睛) or "Eye Dotting" ceremony. Red paint mixed with whiskey and held in a piece of hollowed out ginger is brushed onto key parts of the lion imbuing it with a strong spirit to carry out its work. In Chinese culture, red is the color of happiness and celebration, and in this case the color of blood to represent the life being instilled in the new lion. In days of old it really was blood, squeezed from the comb of a live rooster, that was used in the ceremony and some groups still use cinnebar powder for this.
During the ceremony other symbolic elements are attached to the horn of the lion. The horn of a lion is considered its link to heaven and a source of its power. Adornments used here strengthen the link and add wishes for additional blessings. For instance the golden flowers with the peacock feather symbolize a high rank, and the green onions are homonyms for intelligence. The red ribbon tying it all together shows that the lion is tamed and is performing for a happy occasion.
This ceremony is also known as Hoi Gung (開光) or "Opening Brightness." In many cultures the eyes are considered the windows to the soul, so this ceremony opens the eyes and lights the soul of the lion.
Many other people have written extensively about the ceremony so rather than just reiterate what they've said here are a few links if you're interested: Hoi Gwong (開光) - Giving Life to the Lion Hoi Gong - Eye Dotting
Now, on to the pictures! Click any picture for a larger version.The setup, lions eat lettuce (more on that in my next blog post) and the money in the red envelop is an offering to the team performing the ceremony. The bills attached to the golden stem are folded in the shape of a RuYi Scepter which represents fulfilled wishes. Marty Chiu, who donated the lion for the restoration, dots the mirror. Hungry after being "asleep" for so long, the lion stalks his first meal. The lettuce represents wealth so when the lion throws or spits it out it represents spreading the wealth. After the main part of the routine the newly awakened lion greets the other lions from the troop. It was great to see people who could remember the original Lo An Kee lions admiring and appreciating the restoration. Vince Chan and Yogi Tam even got under the lion to demonstrate the powerful traditional movements that are rarely seen in today's modern performances.
We were also honored to have a special guest, Ryan Au in attendance all the way from the San Francisco Bay Area. Ryan is a fellow lion builder and has his own lion dance blog where he explores many aspects of the art.
Special thanks to the Vince Chan, Yogi Tam, and the Immortals Lion Dance Team of Los Angeles for helping with the ceremony.
Many people have asked, "Now that the restoration is done what are you going to do with the lion? It'd be a shame to just put it into storage." I couldn't agree more! The lion is currently on display at the Chinese Historical Museum in San Diego. If you're in the area please stop by to check it out. I understand the exhibit that it is part of will be running at least through March. More on this in my next post, stay tuned!