Elsewhere in this website we can read about the earliest depictions of sphinxes in India, which for a large part have a Buddhist religious background, and to some extend have a stylistic connection with Hellenistic artistic convention. This artistic tradition has no direct continuity in later history, or in contemporary India, as far as I know. And at the moment we have no understanding of how this artistic tradition relates to the later depictions of sphinxes in other parts of India.
We do, however, find in the religious and artistic traditions of Thailand and Myanmar similar Mythologyological beings. It could be argued these sphinxes constitute, in a way, a ‘missing-link’, between the early traditions of northern India, and the later Hindu artistic traditions. They show the specific features of both styles, in their own way. But at this stage of our investigations I cannot say whether there are actual historical connections or not.
In Thailand we find upright sphinxes, with the lower body of a lion and the upper body of a human being. Occasionally these have the hooves of a deer instead of lion’s claws. But they invariably have the long, curling and plumed tail of the lion. They often appear as couples. They are variously knowns as Thep Norasri or Upsorn Srihas.
In Myanmar sitting sphinxes are found on the four corners of Buddhist stupas. And also as decoration on the bells of pagodas. They often have wings or their limbs show the stylistic remains of wings in the form of featers. They are known as Manuthiha or Manusiha.
The function of the sphinxes in East Asia is the same as elsewhere, various aspects of protection and warding-off evil. I have so far not found any Mythologyological connection with the Mahabharata or other puranas.
Stylisically the sphinxes of Thailand and Myanmar have in common the highly pronounced and arched eyebrows which curl upward at the tip in a very specific and very recognisable manner. The arched and curling eye-brows, the crouching as well as the upright body posture, the curling highly decorative tail, as well as their protective function connects these sphinxes with both the earlier and the later examples from southern India.
I would like to express my sincere thanks to Jim Driscoll for permission to reproduce his photo of the manthiha from Myanmar. And to Anne Heitzer and Heiner Damm for permission to reproduce their photo of the Thepnorasri from Bangkok.