The Sanskrit term Makara refers to a sea dragon
or water monster (Tib. Chu-srin), which is usually identified as a crocodile.
The Makara is the vehicle of the Vedic water god Varuna and the river goddess
Ganga, and has been identified by some scholars with the freshwater dolphins
that inhabit the River Ganges. It is also an emblem of Kamadeva, the Vedic
god of love and desire, who is also known as Makara-Ketu, meaning
'long-tailed makara'. The Makara is also the tenth sign (Skt. rasi) of the
Indian zodiac, which corresponds with Capricorn, the sea goat of the western
As an ancient Indian mythological symbol, the
Makara is a hybrid creature, formed from a number of animals 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 flexible
body of a fish, and the swirling tail feathers of a peacock. During its
stylistic evolution from the ancient Indian to the present Tibetan form, the Makara has also gained a lion's forepaws, a horse's mane, the gills and tendrils
of a fish, and the horns of a deer or dragon. From its once simply
feathered fishtail now emerges a complex spiraling pattern, known as a 'makara-tail'
(Skt. makaraketu) design.
The nature of the crocodile is one of power and
tenacity, as proverbially the crocodile will not release its prey until death
has occurred. The Makara is widely represented upon many Vajrayana weapons
as a symbol of this tenacious strength. These weapons include the axe,
iron hook, curved knife, vajra, and ritual dagger, where the blade or point of
these various weapons emerge from the open mouth (Skt. makaramukha) of this
creature. As a symbol of the water element the head of a Makara often
adorns the corner projections of temple roofs as a rainwater gargoyle. The
Makara head may also appear at the source of a spring as a carved stone
waterspout. Pictorially and architecturally, a symmetrical pair of Makaras
are depicted alongside two
Naga Kanyas (snake women), together with a crowning
Garuda or Kirtimukha face, upon the upper arches of carved wooden doorways, or
torana that rises behind the enlightenment throne of a Buddha or deity
image. Sculpted forms of the torana are extremely common in the
and architecture of Nepal. As a 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. On the three dimensional mandala
this crossed vajra support the entire structure of the mandala palace,
symbolizing the immovable stability of the vajra-ground upon which it stands.
Phurpa with the mouth of a Makara in the recess of the blade.
Above: Shakyamuni Buddha statue with Torana (arch) and Makaras on
the upper right and left corner.
Above: Close up of Makara