John Huntington huntington.2 at OSU.EDU
Sat Feb 14 16:01:31 UTC 2004

This is a very interesting suggestion, a possibility that I had never
considered. However, I must say that I have exactly the same
objections to the Gangetic dolphin as I cited for the Gharail, "The
snout is far too long and slender ... etc.

The discussion has led be to perform a detailed analysis of our
complete photographs (almost 300) of the Sanchi 2 vedika.  Without
being able to send you the attachments this is a bit awkward (Monday
I'll see if the archive personnel have time to make a small website)
but I have some comments to make that clear up the issue for some.

I have the following observations: All representations of ordinary
animals on Sanchi 2 are very realistic and the anatomy of the
respective creatures, mostly elephants, horses, lions, bulls, and
humans is completely understood and portrayed in a naturalistic
manner. Composite animals of several types, centaurs, leogryphs,
elephants with antlers, and several others, are also easily
determinable as to their respective components except for one
feature, a leaf-like convention that appears to be a wing on a few of
composite creatures. From these observations it appears that within
the local conventions of the time, the artists were familiar with the
fauna of their environment and able to convincingly portray what they
chose as models. more importantly they appear to have been absolutely
consistent in this methodology. Even for mythic creatures the models
are easily determinable (this, by the way, has been true since
Harappan times and thus it fits the pattern of "continuity" in the
Indic material cultural record).

This leads me to the following conclusion regarding makara
representations at Sanchi stupa 2. The head and fore quarters are
those of an elephant without tusks and the hind quarters are those of
a finned fish although no scales are shown. The tail shape is
vertical like that of a fish and two of the three examples actually
have rear fins as well (cetaceans have horizontal tail flukes and no
rear fins-like appendages).

These observations do not address later methods of rendering makaras.
Over time they in great ornamental arrays. One of these, by the
fifteenth century artist Jivarama was drawn in the N.S. 555 (1435)
sketchbook (now in the S. K. Neotia Collection) and was included as
part of a throne back  to Rakta Ganapati that he painted for Peljor
Sangpo at Gyantse. See Dina's and my Circle of Bliss Catalog, pp
495-7 or at:

(you will have to enter the exhibition website and go to section 13,
then to the second item in the section, then to the Full Screen Image)

Thank you all for the fun you have given me in reviewing something I
have not thought much about for many  years.


>The situation is more complicated than this.  The Ganges and Indus
>river dolphins (Platanista gangetica and Platanista minor) have long
>snouts remarkably like that of the gharial, and in profile at a
>distance are easily confused with it.  (And I imagine you wouldn't be
>very inclined to swim up for a closer look....)  I have seen photos
>illustrating this in a book on Whales and Dolphins, and it seemed to
>explain a lot about the apparent combined crocodile/dolphin character
>of the makara.
>For a photo of the Ganges River Dolphin (Susu) see:
>Valerie J Roebuck
>Manchester, UK
>At 6:56 pm -0500 13/2/04, John Huntington wrote:
>>There is a good picture if a gharail at:
>>The snout is far too long and slender to even suggest a makara to me.
>>further the makara snout is always curled, which a gharail simply
>>cannot do since it is an elongation of the skull see at:
>> gaviale.htm  or
>>Gavialis_gangeticus/  One may also note that the makaras have a very
>>thick snout base much like the elephant's trunk and no extended lower
>>jaw such as the gharail has.
>>>While I certainly would not wish to contradict John Huntington when
>>>it comes to artistic representations, when I recently discussed the
>>>question with Gail Maxwell of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, a
>>>propos a Bharhut image, she showed me her extensive files on the
>>>depiction of the makara, including her evidence--I am not able to
>>>judge whether it is convincing--that the earliest images are based
>>>upon the Gavialis gangeticus, most particularly with regard to the
>>>evolution of the snout, which in the actual crocodile inflates when
>>>excited. (Another issue which might be  relevant here is that at
>>>least at a later period there is a conflation of the makara with the
>>>timi, timingila and timitimingila [various spelt]).
>>>Cheers, JAS
>>>Jonathan Silk
>>>Department of Asian Languages & Cultures
>>>Center for Buddhist Studies
>>>290 Royce Hall
>>>Box 951540
>>>Los Angeles, CA 90095-1540
>>>phone: (310)206-8235
>>>fax:  (310)825-8808
>>>silk at

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