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Sri Lankan Mythological Creatures

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T his article looks at a pair of book covers in our collection and compares the images of three mythological creatures found on the covers with images of the same creatures depicted elsewhere.


The Makara – Crocodile Sea Monster

The makara is a crocodile sea monster found in Hindu and Buddhist art and mythology.
This creature is described in the Rupavaliya, a sanskrit book in the artistic canon of Sri Lankan, as having “the trunk of an elephant, the feet of a lion, the ears of a pig, the body of a fish living in water, the teeth turned outwards, eyes like a human’s, and a splendid tail” (translated in Medieval Sinhalese Art).

Mythology Makara Embossed
On the book’s cover, the makara is embossed and chased with scales, a fish tail and a menacing face.
Mythology Karava Makara
This 19th century representation of the Karava Makara flag, used in the ceremonies of the Karavas, shows the makara in an expressive stance, turning his face upward and curling his tail inwards
Mythology Bharhut Stupa
This is a sketch of one of the carvings in the Bharhut Stupa of Central India, circa 200 B.C. Compared with the silver book covers, the snout on this makara is very small and curls upwards.
Mythology Bakong Temple
This carving from Bakong temple in Cambodia shows a makara disgorging a lion-like monster.




Simha – The Majestic Lion

The simha or lion is an important symbol in Sinhalese art and poetry, where it represents the mythical ancestor, standing for power, majesty and dignity. As recalled in the Mahabharata: ‘Thus, Simha, proud as a lion, free from fear and bewilderment, rushes towards the mountains.’ And ‘Kings are as proud as lions’.


The head of the lion is also depicted without its body shown. This is called kibihi-muna.

Mythology Kibihi Muna
The kibihi-muna carved on the silver book covers. Like the makara (crocodile sea monster) its face is menacing.
Mythology Kibihi Muna Sketch
Kibihi-muna sketched from a painted box – [D.S.M.] (Medieval Sinhalese Art)




Makara Torana – Kibihi-Muna and Makara Arch

The kibihi-muna (lion face) and makara (crocodile sea monster) are often combined to form an ornamental arch. The kibihi-muna acts as the keystone and is flanked by two makara which face each other.
This arrangement is seen on carvings in temple as well as on ivory and silver articles.

Mythology Kibihi Muna Complete
Here is the complete photo of the kibihi-muna (lion face) and makara (crocodile sea monster) shown before; together they form a wonderful decorative arch, the makara torana.
Mythology Makara Toram
This Ivory box with gold mounts has been carved with a similar scene of makara torana. (Sinhalese Medieval Art).




Nari-lata-vela – women growing on vines

The nari-lata-vela is a mythical vine with flowers in the form of women, these woman are ‘in all wise of perfect beauty, glorious in grace’.
The vine grows in the Himalayas, a favourite location for Sri Lankan mythical creatures.

Nari Lata Vela
A sketch of nari-lata-vela from the decoration on a painted box, Ridi Vihara, Sinhalese Medieval Art.
Mythology Nari Lata Vela Bookends
Nari-lata-vela on the silver bookends.




Mythology Horn Comb
Nari-lata-vela pieced on a horn comb, panava, by the artist Kegalla Kacceri.
Mythology Siamese
A Siamese version drawn by P. C. Jinavaravamsa

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