View Single Post
Old 5th October 2012, 05:14 PM   #17
Ibrahiim al Balooshi
Ibrahiim al Balooshi's Avatar
Join Date: Jul 2006
Location: Buraimi Oman, on the border with the UAE
Posts: 3,791
Send a message via MSN to Ibrahiim al Balooshi
Default The Makara.

Salaams all ~ PLEASE SEE Michael Backman antiques shows photos of a sold KASTANE of exceptional quality.. but wrongly attributed as a lion head..Its a Makara !! Otherwise the description is accurate... and well produced by Michael as usual.

See for a very nice Kastane which I believe is now in a Sri Lankan Museum.

I should like to address the Makara situation since dating its decorative style may point toward a start date of the Kastane. I will show that the Makara is a revered, mystical creature that is ingrained in Buddhist and Hindu ritual beliefs. The question of the other beasts (Nagas ~ snake like serpent Gods and a human / crocodile form) emanating apparently from the mouth of the Makara on the Kastane Hilt is also described here.

Without putting too fine a point on this " The fact the Hindu structure alone stretches back about 4,000 years, therefore, you may agree, puts some tension on the Kastane being 15th or 16th Century Portuguese, though, it may yet be so.

Some of the descriptions below are shown in pictures I have posted previously...see above posts.

The Makara.

Typically Makara are displayed disgorging other beasts (usually Nagas ~ snake like serpents) e.g. On corner of a lintel on one of the towers surrounding the central pyramid at Bakong, Roluos, Cambodia. They also appear on the Kastane Hilt.

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 springs. The artistic carving in stone is in the form of identical pair of Makaras flanked by two nagas (Snake Gods) along with a crown of Garuda, which is called the Kirthimukha face. Therefor the two are commonly seen together and in ancient settings.

Such depictions are also seen at the entrance of wooden doorways as the top arch and also as a Torana (Entrance)behind Buddha’s images.

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."

Makaras are also a characteristic motif of the religious Khmer architecture of the Angkor region of Cambodia which was the capital of the Khmer Empire.

They are usually part of the decorative carving on a lintel, tympanum, or wall. Makaras are usually depicted with other (various and miscellaneous) symbolic animals, such as a lion, naga or serpent, emerging from its gaping open mouth.

Makara are a central design motif in the beautiful lintels of the Roluos group of temples: Preah Ko, Bakong, and Lolei. At Banteay Srei, carvings of Makaras disgorging other monsters were installed on many of the buildings' corners.

Occasionally I see human form similar to the carving on the bows of sailing ships (on the knuckle guard of the Kastane) though this may be coincidental but I have yet to crack the reason for this I will do in a minute !!..It could be that or another beast style in the human form? Anyway the Makara appears to spew out these Naga mini beasts and others in several depictions... and as seen on pictures at my above posts.

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 elephant or crocodile or stag, or deer) and in hind part as aquatic animal, in the tail part, as a fish tail or also as seal. Sometimes, even a peacock tail is depicted.

It 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 (on whose flag a Makara is depicted).

The Makara is the astrological sign of Capricorn, one of the twelve symbols of the Zodiac.(absorbed into Hindu/Buddhist doctrines from the Ancient Greek Zodiac and in the case of Capricorn modified with their own version.. "The Makara".) It is often portrayed protecting entryways to Hindu and Buddhist temples.

It is 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.

There is a Row of Makara in base of Chennakesava Temple at Belur, Karnataka

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.

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.

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."

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.

So could this be one of the beasts in human form seen occasionally spewed onto the knuckle guard of the Kastana ? see picture above. The other beasts emanating from its open jaws being miniature Makara and Nagas.

A Row of Makara decorate the 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. 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.

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.

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.

A Makara made in iron shows the monster in the form of half stag and half fish.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.

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)".

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 in 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".

In conclusion it can be seen that the Makara is the ancient Sri Lankan and neighboring Buddhist and Hindu regional form from which the design is taken in Sri Lanka for the Kastane Hilt. The question of the additional beasts are explained as serpent or snakelike gods usually spewing from the Makaras open jaws and the appearance of a strange human like figure which is clearly the early human crocodile form explained above. (in red for easy reference) and often seen on the Kastane Knuckleguard.

Looking ahead; the question emerges ~ Is the Makara a Sri Lankan design or was it taken from a Sri Lankan design by the Portuguese and put onto a Sword? I cannot imagine the latter. In my view the hilt is Sri Lankan and taken from their historical design. The Makara; Common all over their iconic religious format in architecture et al. I see no evidence of a Portuguese design... yet.
The existence of a Portuguese word for stick (Castao) is interesting but may only be coincidental. After all Kastane is closer to Kattara than Castao but I'm not examining the "whats is a word conundrum here"...Sri Lankan word strings are long and complicated enough as it is !!
In my next article I hope to shed some light on the situation in Sri Lanka before and during the period leading up to Portuguese partial takeover... looking at the splintered kingdoms and their mode of craftsmanship and how the Kastane may have developed.

Feel free to join in ....all.

Ibrahiim al Balooshi.
Ibrahiim al Balooshi is offline   Reply With Quote