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).
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.
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.
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.