First, it was jade. Then it was bronze. But when he saw one made of fish bone, he was hooked.
Anand Kailayapillai, 53, collects all things related to dragons. Currently, he has amassed over 250 items in different shapes, sizes and materials – all neatly displayed at his apartment in Kuala Lumpur.
“I pride myself in having unique pieces as well as not buying two items made from the same material,” shared Anand as we viewed the collection at his home.
His interest first started when he bought a little jade dragon at the airport in Hong Kong while waiting for his flight back to Malaysia in December 2003.
Three years later, he was on a holiday to Siem Reap, Cambodia, in early 2006 when he found a little bronze carving of a dragon near Angkor Wat and thought it would be nice to add that to the jade dragon.
“Shortly after that trip, I went to Singapore and again found something unique, a dragon made of fish bone, and I was hooked after that. That’s when I got fascinated and realised there are so many different types of dragon (figurines and statues), with so many kinds of materials used,” said the St John’s Institution alumnus.
His collection consists of various figurines, carvings, framed handicraft work, fridge magnets and a calligraphy of the word loong or “dragon” in Chinese.
There is also a dragon-shaped music box from Phnom Penh, Cambodia, a buffalo horn engraved with dragon motif from the Philippines, an antique-looking dragon door handle found in Goa, India, plus a special edition liqour bottle with a dragon carving inside which he bought at a local fair.
The last big item he bought was from Taiping – where he is based – which is a red vase with a golden dragon on the side which he got at a shop selling crafts from China.
Among his most loved pieces are a gold-plated egg with dragon motif from Singapore and a figurine made from the threads of a gunny sack from Bangkok.
“They all are my prized possessions. But I have an affinity for some that I know I am blessed to have found or acquired by chance or under unique circumstances, especially in places I did not expect.
“One such item that I treasure is a unique handicraft I bought in Bangkok by the roadside near the Nana BTS station. This man was making various animal figures from threads used for gunny sacks. Can you imagine how unique that is? I don’t think I will find it anywhere else. It’s such a unique skill,” he enthused, adding that his widest and most diverse group of items came from Vietnam.
When people hear about his interest, many have asked Anand if he was born in the Year of the Dragon.
“I was born in the Year of the Snake, but my parents were both ‘Dragons’. Besides that, a cousin of mine once reminded me that in Hinduism, the snake protecting Lord Shiva is called Naga, which is the local word for ‘dragon’,” shared the freelance writer.
“It’s simply amazing how unique this great creature is, and how it is part of the Chinese zodiac yet is the only one that is not a real animal. There are a lot of myths and folklore about it, not just in Asia, but in Europe too,” he said, adding that he does not plan to collect figurines of the famed, fire-breathing St George’s Dragon.
Anand is open to meeting people who have a similar collection or are interested in starting their own collection.
“I am just a collector. If there are other collectors out there, maybe we can start a club,” he said, smiling.