The Makara according to some ancient Hindu Mythology, is seen as a marvellous sea creature depicted as half-fish and half-animal. It is represented by the mount of Varuna, the Hindu god of wind and sky and Ganga, the deity associated with the Ganges River. The word means monster being in the capacity of that of a hybrid creature, neither one thing or another. In astrology, it is attributed to the sign of Capricorn, one of twelve Zodiac symbols.
In Thailand, these bizarre beasts are seen as aquatic monsters made up as a part serpent, part crocodile and part elephant. You can identify them by their crocodile heads with open toothy jaws, elephant trunks and serpent-like scales. Here they symbolise rainfall and the source of all existence and fertility.
They are said to be water guardians living beneath rivers, lakes and seas as well as being linked to the earth via the cosmos.
Intricate stone images can be seen rising along temple balustrades, as the reliefs on temple lintels, adorning Prangs or on rooftops. Not only do these beasts provide protection against evil spirits, I'm told these magnificent monsters are highly regarded as powerful symbols in support of Thailand's rice-cultivating regions.
Unique specimens can be viewed enclosed within the stone laterite walls of the fifteenth century Khmer temple of Wat Sri Sawai in the Sukhothai province of Thailand. The three-tower style structure with its central twenty-metre prang seen here was believed to have been originally built as a Hindu shrine.
Stone Carvings of the Hindu god Vishnu, the preserver of the universe and other Hindu divinities have been found on the site. Wat Mahathat, which is three hundred metres away, is another magical place where these mystical creatures can be viewed.
Further afield, there are some extraordinary examples of these mysterious figures. According to the Mon Hariphunchai period, specimens often appear by themselves for decorative purposes. A rare Lan Na example with head and body is seen lining the roof of the sala at Wat Ton Kwen in the town of Hang Dong.
Another with head only can be seen at Wat Kukut in Lamphun. Also known as Wat Chama Devi, it was named after the princess who first ruled Hariphunchai. The temple was built by her son, King Mahandayok in the early 8th century. The Chedis are amazing examples of Mon architecture. Hang Dong and Lamphun lie just a short distance south of Chiang Mai and well worth a visit.
During the Lan Na period, the Makara is almost always merged with the body of the serpent-like creature known as the Naga. Features here would include small crocodile-like legs that sprout in front and behind the body while the tail section coil up much like that of a snake. Some even end as a type of rising flame.
Examples of these seemingly immortal beings can be found flanking the stairwells of Buddhist temple monasteries. The balustrades are usually where these monster critters prefer to reside all the while acting as protective guardians.
They appear in all periods of classical northern style Thai art. You will see them on both sides of the stairwells, all of which have five heads with the largest one in the centre. They are justly imposing and impressive and could even be considered handsome.
Some of the most exquisite examples of Burmese and Thai Lan Na periods can be seen at Wat Chedi Luang, a Buddhist temple in the historic part of Chiang Mai. You'll find the heads of these rather ferocious snarling creatures sporting glorious crowns, all of which are attached to serpent-like torsos with intricately patterned scales. They appear to glide downward from the balustrades.
Similar examples of the Makara can be found at Wat Umong Maha Thera Chan one of many Buddhist temples located within the old city moat of the same city.
Another fine example of these monstrous and magnificent creatures can be seen at Wat Suan Dok, located just west of the old city walls on Suthep Road in Chiang Mai. One of the serpent-like creature found here has a head with a rather menacingly looking open mouth that sports a beautifully carved ornamented floral tendril complete with a serpent-like floral torso as seen below.
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