Where exactly is Singapore?
Some seem to think that we are in China. Other slightly more informed folks might actually think we are in Michigan, where there actually is a town also called Singapore. We are in neither of those two locations, of course!
The Malay word Singapura is derived from Sanskrit sinha (lion) and pura (town). In ancient Hindu-Buddhist culture, the lion represented power and protection, which is probably why it's such a popular name across Asia.
Unknown to many, variations of the name Singapura, was actually relatively common across ancient Asia. Here are five other places which also share our Lion City name:
1. Simhapura - Vietnam
The first capital of the Hindu kingdom of Champa was Simhapura (presently Trà Kiệu, Vietnam). Simhapura, which means Lion Citadel, served as Champa's capital from the 4th to 8th century. Today, nothing remains of Simhapura except for old ruins.
2. Sing Buri - Thailand
Sing Buri was also derived from Sanskrit sinha (lion) and puri (town). It was established in central Thailand around the 12th century. Today, Sing Buri is better known by its nickname - the Land of Heroes - a reference to a band of warriors who defended the city against Burmese invasions during the Ayutthaya period.
3. Sangkapura - Bawean Island, Indonesia
Located north of Java, the Bawean Island is home to Sangkapura - a region which contains more than 48,000 people living in 17 villages. Interestingly, the Bawean Island is also called the Island of Women as a large proportion of the male population leave the island to find work. It is speculated that Sangkapura took on the name Singapura in the 17th century.
4. Singapura - West Java, Indonesia
Here, the stories start to leave the world of facts and enter the murky waters of myth and legends.
According to 15th century east Java inscriptions, a Singapura was identified as a dependency of the Majapahit empire (present day Java). This Singapura probably refers to a kingdom located in West Java, northeast of Cirebon. It is also mentioned in the Cariosan Prabhu Siliwangi, a collection of stories about King Siliwangi who ruled the Sunda Kingdom in the 15th century.
5. Singapura - India
The Lion City also appears in a couple of Buddhist mythical stories as places in ancient India. The Mahavastu, one of the earliest Buddhist texts, tells the story of King Suchandrima of Singapura who planned a great sacrifice which involved the burning of one animal of every species - including a mythical half-human, half-bird creature called a kinnari. Unfortunately, one of King Suchandrima's guests fell in love with the kinnari. In the end, he managed to persuade King Suchandrima to release all the animals, and went home with the mythical creature.
Another part-Buddhist-part-Sri Lankan historical text, the Mahavamsa mentions the city of Sinhapura which founded by a man who had the hands of a - what else - lion! This man was legendary king Sinhabahu which literally means Lion (sinha) Arm (bahu) in Sanskrit. It is said that the Sinhalese of modern day Sri Lanka are descendants of the ancient city of Sinhapura.
Interestingly, the lion is a species not native to Southeast Asia - which means that, excluding India, all the cities on this list would have most likely never seen an actual lion. That would probably explain why our Southeast Asian 'lions' tend not to resemble their real life counterparts:
More related articles on place names in Singapura aka Singapore:
Top photo adapted from Google Maps and here.