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Tibet - Gilded copper and semiprecious stones - Height 23 x 23 cm - 17th century

Of the mythical beings which populate the legends of the Indian subcontinent, Makaras are certainly one of the best known and most frequently represented in art. In their iconography, these sea monsters with a hybrid appearance take on the distinctive features of different animals, such as the elephant’s trunk, the crocodile’s jaws and body and the snake’s tail. The Makara, a vehicle of both Varu- na, the Vedic god of water, and Ganga, the river goddess who personifies the Ganges, is also a symbol of Kâmadeva, the Vedic god of love and desire (1). The representative characteristics of this sea monster, namely power and perseverance, account for the presence of his image on weapons held by deities mainly belonging to the Vajrayâna sphere. Such weapons, whose blades or tips may emerge from the wide open jaws of Makara, include the axe, the hook, the curved knife for skinning and the vajra.
These sea monsters are also placed with a protective function in temples, on the corners of their roofs or on their roof-gutters. Pairs of Makaras are represented with Nâga (see no. 19) and Garuda on the doorways of temples or around the prabhâ of gods, as in this case. This Makara rests its paws on an element typical to the backs of thrones of Buddhist deities, above which there are flowers, and the elaborate swirl of its long, twisted tail, which has been made with particular care. Judging by the fineness of the workmanship of this piece and its size, this Makara clearly embellished the back of a beautiful throne on which an important statue must have been placed. Some details have been painted onto the piece using coloured pig- ments, and the inclusion of semiprecious stones, such as rock crystal, turquoise and coral, much loved by Tibetans, further increase its value.

(1) Robert Beer, The Handbook of Tibetan Buddhist Symbol, Serindia, Chicago - London 2003, p. 77

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