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Makara (Hindu mythology)

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Title: Makara (Hindu mythology)  
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Language: English
Subject: Varuna, Art of Champa, Alchi Monastery, Khmer architecture, Ganges
Collection: Hindu Legendary Creatures, Legendary Reptiles, Mythic Aquatic Creatures, Mythical Aquatic Creatures, Tibetan Buddhist Practices
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Makara (Hindu mythology)

Makara as the Vahana (vehicle) of the goddess Ganga
Makara Sculpture at Jain Museum, Khajuraho

Makara (Sanskrit: मकर) is a sea-creature in Hindu mythology. It is generally depicted as half terrestrial animal in the frontal part, in animal forms of an elephant, crocodile, stag, or deer, and in the hind part as an aquatic animal, in the form of a fish or seal tail. Sometimes, even a peacock tail is depicted.

Makara is the vahana (vehicle) of the Ganga - the goddess of river Ganges (Ganga) and the sea god Varuna. It is also the insignia of the love god Kamadeva. Kamadeva is also known as Makaradhvaja (one whose flag a makara is depicted). Makara is the astrological sign of Capricorn, one of the twelve symbols of the Zodiac. It is often portrayed protecting entryways to Hindu and Buddhist temples.

Makara symbolized in ornaments are also in popular use as wedding gifts for bridal decoration. The Hindu Preserver-god Vishnu is also shown wearing makara-shaped earrings called Makarakundalas. The Sun god Surya and the Mother Goddess Chandi are also sometimes described as being adorned with Makarakundalas.


  • Etymology 1
  • Vedic depictions 2
  • Iconography 3
  • Ornaments 4
  • Distribution 5
  • Cryptozoology 6
  • Makara (Sinhala Mythology) 7
  • History 8
  • Artistic Work 9
    • Dragon balustrade 9.1
    • Guard stone 9.2
    • Pandol 9.3
  • Flags 10
  • Literature 11
  • References 12
  • External links 13
  • Bibliography 14


Makara as vehicle of Varuna deva

'Makara' is a Sanskrit word which means "sea dragon" or "water-monster" and in Tibetan language it is called the "chu-srin",[1] and also denotes a hybrid creature.[2] It is the origin of the word for crocodile 'mugger' (मगर) in Hindi. The English word 'mugger' evolved meaning one who sneaks up and attacks another. The name is applied to the Mugger crocodile, the most common crocodile in India, and is descriptive of its aggressive feeding behavior.[3]

Josef Friedrich Kohl of Wurzburg University and several German scientists claimed that makara is based on dugong instead, based on his reading of Jain text of Sūryaprajñapti.[4][5][6]

Vedic depictions

Karava Makara flag from Sri Lanka with elephant/fish head and peacock tail

During the Vedic times when Indra was the God of heaven, Varuna, the Vedic water god became the God of the seas and rode on makara, which was called “the water monster vehicle”.[7][8]

Makara has been depicted typically as half mammal and half fish. In many temples, the depiction is in the form of half fish or seal with head of an elephant. It is also shown in an anthropomorphic (abstract form) with head and jaws of a crocodile, an elephant trunk with scales of fish and a peacock tail. Lakshmi sitting on a lotus is also a depiction in which she pulls the tongue of the elephant shaped makara is meant to project Lakshmi’s image as the goddess of prosperity, wealth and well being.[2][3][9] It represents a chaotic state, which eventually is restored to a state of regular order.[2]

Makara is also the emblem of Kamadeva, the vedic god of love and desire. It is also known as ‘Makara-Ketu’ which means “long tailed makara.” It is the tenth sign of the Zodiac, called rāśi in Sanskrit, which is equivalent to the zodiacal sign of Capricorn (goat symbol).[7]


Row of Makara in base of Chennakesava Temple at Belur, Karnataka Note Makara standing vertical at corner.

In Hindu iconography, Makara is represented as the vahana (‘vehicle’) of Ganga, the river goddess. A row of makara may run along the wall of a Hindu temple, or form the hand rail of a staircase.[3]

The leading Hindu temple architect and builder Ganapati Sthapati describes Makara as a mythical animal with the body of a fish, trunk of an elephant, feet of a lion, eyes of a monkey, ears of a pig, and the tail of a peacock.[3] A more succinct explanation is provided: "An ancient mythological symbol, the hybrid creature is formed from a number of animals such that collectively possess the nature of a crocodile. It has the lower jaw of a crocodile, the snout or trunk of an elephant, the tusks and ears of a wild boar, the darting eyes of a monkey, the scales and the flexible body of a fish, and the swirling tailing feathers of a peacock."[7]

Traditionally, a makara is considered to be an aquatic mythical creature. Makara has been depicted typically as half animal half fish. Some traditional accounts identify it with a crocodile, specifically Gharial because of its long extended snout. It is depicted with the forequarters of an elephant and the hindquarters as a fish tail. Crocodile was also a form which was used in the earlier days which was shown with human body.[3][10]

Row of Makara in base of Chennakesava Temple at Belur, Karnataka

In many temples, the depiction is in the form of half fish or seal with head of an elephant. It is also shown with head and jaws resembling a crocodile, an elephant trunk with scales of fish and a peacock tail.[2] Other accounts identify it with Gangetic Dolphin having striking resemblances with the latter, now found mainly in Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary. Others portray it as a fish body with an elephant's head. The tradition identifies the makara with water, the source of all existence and fertility.[3]

In the medieval era of South India, Makara was shown as a fifth stage of development, symbolized in the form of an elephant head and body with an elaborately foliated fish tail. Most myths maintain this symbolism of this stage in the evolution of life.[9] (Note makara in fifth row of animistic carvings in temple wall at right.)

The Makara Thoranam above the door of the to Garbhagriha of Chennakesava Temple at Belur. Two makaras are shown on either end of the arch.

In a Hindu temple, the Makara often serves as the structural bookends of a thoranam or archway around a deity. The arch emerges up from the jaws of one Makara, rises to its peak, the Kirtimukha (the ‘Face of Glory'), and descends into the gaping jaws of another Makara. Varuna is also depicted as a white man sitting on the monster makara. As a marine monster, it is also shown with the head and legs of an antelope, and the body and tail of a fish.[11] A makara made in iron shows the monster in the form of half stag and half fish.[12] These elements are variously joined to form one of the most common recurring themes in Indian temple iconography. In Indian art, the makara finds expression in the form of many motifs, and has been portrayed in different styles. Makara figures are placed on the entry points (Toranas) of several Buddhist monuments, including the stupa of Sanchi, a world heritage site. It is found guarding the entrances to royal thrones (see Distribution below).[3]

In the Tibetan Buddhist format it evolved from the Indian form of makara. However, it is different in some ways such as, "display of lions fore paws, a horse’s mane, the gills and tendrils of a fish, and the horns of a deer or dragon. From its once simple feathered fishtail it now emerges as a complex spiraling pattern known as makara-tail design (Sanskritmakaraketu)".[7]

In Tibetan iconography, it is depicted in the Vajrayana weaponry of strength and tenacity which is the hall mark of crocodiles, since crocodiles hold on its hapless victim is nothing but death. The Vajrayan weapons which have crocodile symbolism are; axe, iron hook, curved knife, vajra, ritual dragon in all of which the theme is "emergence from the open mouth of makara".[7]

Makara disgorging a lion-like creature on corner of a lintel on one of the towers) surrounding the central pyramid at Bakong, Roluos, Cambodia

Its symbolic representation in the form of a makara head at the corner of temple roofs is as water element which also functions as a "rainwater spout or gargoyle". It is also seen as water spouts at the source of a spring. The artistic carving in stone is in the form of identical pair of makaras flanked by two Nāgas (snake gods) along with a crown of Garuda, which is called the kirtimukha face. Such depictions are also seen at the entrance of wooden doorways as the top arch and also as a torana behind Buddha’s images.[7]

The Newa art of Nepal uses this depiction extensively. In Newar architecture, its depiction is; "as guardian of gateways, the makara image appears on the curved prongs of the vast crossed-vajra that encompasses the four gateways of the two-dimensional mandala. Of the three dimensional-mandala this crossed-vajra supports the whole structure of the mandala palace symbolizing the immovable stability of the vajra-ground on which it stands."[7]

The temples of ancient Java is notable with the application of kala-makara as both decorative and symbolic elements of temple architecture. Kala is the giant head, often took place on the top of the entrance with makaras projected on either sides of kala's head flanking the portal or projecting on top corner as antefixes. Kala-makara theme also can be found on stairs railings on either sides. On upper part of stairs, the mouth of kala's head projecting makara downward. The intricate stone carving of twin makaras flanking the lower level of stairs with its bodies forming the stair's railings. These types of stairs decorations can be observed in Borobudur and Prambanan temples. Makara's trunks are often describes as handling gold ornaments or spouting jewels, while in its mouth often projected Gana dwarf figures or animals such as lions or parrots.

Makaras are also a characteristic motif of the religious

  • Perera, ADTA (Sep–Oct 1975). "Makara - crafted with mattock (ගල් කටුවෙන් පණ ගැන්වූ මකරා)". Religious News (ශාසන ප්‍රවෘත්ති) (in Sinhala) (Colombo 7: Religious Division of Department of Cultural Affairs) 5 (1 – 2): p. 6–7. 
  • Schokman, Derrick (12 April 2003). "The Kusta Raja Gala". Daily News. Retrieved 18 March 2012. 


External links

  • Dictionary of Hindu Lore and Legend (ISBN 0-500-51088-1) by Anna Dallapiccola
  • The Illustrated Book of Signs and Symbols by Miranda Bruce-Mitford
  1. ^ Sir Monier Monier-Williams (2005), A Sanskrit-English dictionary: etymologically and philologically arranged, Motilal Banarsidass Publications, p. 771, retrieved 2011-01-22 
  2. ^ a b c d e Brenda Rosen (3 March 2009). The Mythical Creatures Bible: The Definitive Guide to Legendary Beings. Sterling Publishing Company, Inc. pp. 136–.  
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Janaki Lenin (2011-01-14), "My Husband and Other Animals - The beast within File:Makara Bedur.jpg", The Hindu, ARTS » HISTORY & CULTURE (Kasturi & Sons Ltd), retrieved 2011-01-14 
  4. ^ Meulenbeld, Gerrit Jan (1974), The Mādhavanidāna and Its Chief Commentary, Chapters 1-10, Parts 1-10, Brill Archive, p. 484,  
  5. ^ van der Geer, Alexandra Anna Enrica (2008), Animals in Stone:Indian Mammals Sculptured Through Time, Brill, p. 64,  
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Robert Beer (10 September 2003). The handbook of Tibetan Buddhist symbols. Serindia Publications, Inc. pp. 77–.  
  8. ^ George Mason Williams (2003). Handbook of Hindu mythology. ABC-CLIO. pp. 294–.  
  9. ^ a b c Archaeological Institute of America (1970). Archaeology. Archaeological Institute of America. pp. 41–43. Retrieved 17 January 2011. 
  10. ^ K. Krishna Murthy (October 1985). Mythical animals in Indian art. Abhinav Publications. pp. 37, 41, 44.  
  11. ^ W. J. Wilkins (March 2004). Hindu Mythology, Vedic and Puranic. Kessinger Publishing. pp. 36–.  
  12. ^ Wilkins (2004)", p.373
  13. ^ Vittorio Roveda (2005), Images of the gods: Khmer mythology in Cambodia, Thailand and Laos, River Books, pp. 209–210 
  14. ^ "Trunko", AmericanMonsters., retrieved 2008-12-03 
  15. ^ Clough, B. (1997). Sinhalese English Dictionary. Asian Educational Services. p. 163. 
  16. ^ Wijesinghe, Mahil (4 Feb 2007). "Lankatilaka Raja Maha Visharaya - Splendour of the Gampola Era". Sunday Observer. p. 1. Retrieved 16 March 2012. 
  17. ^ "Discover Sri Lanka". Lanka Nest. Retrieved 16 March 2012. 
  18. ^ Wijesinghe, Mahil. "Lankatilaka Raja Maha Viharaya - Splendor of the Gampola Ear". Yes. Sunday Observer. Retrieved 16 March 2012. 
  19. ^ Fernando, Kishani S. "Ridi Viharaya". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 14 March 2012. 
  20. ^ "Tom Allwood Photography". Tom Allwood. Retrieved 18 March 2012. 
  21. ^ "The Makara". Kshatriya Maha Sabha, Sri Lanka. Retrieved 18 March 2012. 
  22. ^ Wikramage, Gunarathna (2007). Makara. Colombo: Godage International Publishers. p. 184.  
  23. ^ Wikramage, Gunarathna. "Makara". Retrieved 24 March 2012. 


  • The collection of short stories titled Makara (මකරා) in Sinhala language is authored by Gunarathna Wikramage and published by the prominent book publisher in the country, Godage International Publishers and the book won the Godage Literal Award for best short stories collection in 2007.[22][23]
  • The other is a short story titled Makara written by Sri Lankan writer Anandasiri Kalapugama.

There are two modern literature works with the title of Makara in Sri Lanka.


Since at least the 14th century, people of the Karava (කෞරව) cast in Sri Lanka use a flag with the symbol of Makara which is called Makara flag in their ceremonies along with their ancient clan names like Varuna and titles such as Aditya.[21]


A figure of Makara has been carved to the handle of a temple key of Gadaladeniya Temple[20] built in 1344 in Diggala in Kandy District.

Sinhala-buddhist artists considered Makara as the symbol of posperity and self-sufficiency so they were not hesitant in portraying the sign of Makara in the entrance arch gateway to the religious places, such as temple, stupa or bodi. Precious examples for the above are Temple of the Tooth and Lankatilaka Temple [18] in Kandy. Examples for the arched gateway with Makara over the image of Lord Buddha can be seen in Ridi Viharaya.[19] and Dambulla cave temple.

Makara pandol over the image of Lord Buddha in Dambulla cave temple


The guard-stone (මුරගල) has given a highest place to Makara. Over the head of the gatekeeper carved in there, the figures of Makara can be seen.

Guard stone

The dragon balustrade is another kind of stone carvings which portray the Makara (dragon). These artworks used to decorate the entrance of Buddhist stupas, temples and Bo trees. There are two balustrades at main entrance of Lankathilaka Viharaya[16][17] in Kandy and they are sometimes called Gajasinha balustrades (ගඡසිංහ කොරවක් ගල්) because of the shape of the Makara there.

Dragon Balustrade at the entrance to Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura, Sir Lanka

Dragon balustrade

It is obvious that the Sinhala artists attributed a special symbolic meaning to Makara by adding the picture of Makara around the said stone carving. In addition to that, the Sinhala artists have given more opportunities for Makara to enter into the art world.

Artistic Work

In Sinhalese ancient artwork Makara has been an invented creature; it is made up of body parts of six or seven animals such as the trunk of the elephant, jaws of the crocodile, ears of the mouse or ape, extruding teeth of wild swine, the tail plume of the peacock and feet of the lion.[15]

Since ancient time, easterners believe thet Makara is one of watery creatures and even from the pre-era of the field of Buddhist art, Makara has been depicted both in work of literature and stone carvings. Makara gained a distinctive position in the Sinhala Buddhist culture - a special place not given in Buddhist artwork in other countries.


'Makara' is the Sinhala term for dragon, an important figure in Sinhala Buddhist culture in Sri Lanka.

Makara (Sinhala Mythology)

Some cryptozoologists suspect the legend of the Makara may be based in fact, and associate it with the Trunko sighting on South Africa's Indian coast.[14] Some ancient sketches of Makara do tend to resemble modern illustrated renditions of the prehistoric mammal Ambulocetus. A more reasonable identification of the creature is that with the South Asian river dolphin; an animal, which, though now endangered, was once abundantly found in the Ganges-Brahmaputra river system and with which the Makara shares several visible similarities.


Stone sculptures of the mythological Makara and its ancient place in the iconography of Hinduism and Buddhism are widely spread throughout South Asia and Southeast Asia. Examples from ten countries are shown below:


Lord Vishnu’s earrings are shown in the form of Makara.[2] Its contemporary usage is as ornaments in the form of bracelets in hollow silver ware inlaid with jewels for eyes and ears, which is given as a wedding gift to the bride. Makaras’ jaws are made of pearls which are stated to possess aphrodisiac properties [9]



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