Some temples in Asia have magnificent sets of gargoyles, not just in terms of superb carving but also with a very interesting iconography that tells us about the culture and traditions of the fascinating countries on the Asian continent. Many of these gargoyles depict fantastical figures drawn from the mythology of these countries.
On the island of Java (Indonesia), in the Borobudur (Buddhist) and Prambanan (Hindu) temples, built between the 8th and the 11th centuries, there are some really splendid gargoyles.
The Borobudur temple, the largest Buddhist monument in the world, was built in honour of the Buddha.
The Prambanan site is dedicated to the three main Hindu deities that make up the Trimurti: Shiva, Brahma and Visnu.
The mythological figures depicted on Indonesian gargoyles include the monster Makara, in Sanskrit sea dragon or water monster (मकर). It’s the most commonly recurring creature in Hindu and Buddhist temple iconography and is regarded as a guardian god, which is why it appears on walls and temple entrances.
Makara is a sea creature, a hybrid formed by various animal parts, and its origins lie in Indian mythology. It’s depicted with the head of an elephant and the body of a fish. Makara is also said to have a scaly body, tusks and boar or pig’s ears, sometimes with a peacock tail with the feathers spread out.
It has been linked to the crocodile, in fact it’s said to have this reptile’s jaw. Makara’s powers are connected with sexuality and virility. It’s also considered as a vehicle (vahana) of the Ganges river goddess (Ganga) and the sea god (Varuna).
Makara frequently appears as a gargoyle, like at the sites of Borobudur and Prambanan, where you can see some absolutely beautiful and intricately carved examples.
On one of his trips to Indonesia, our son Manuel brought us photographs of some of these marvellous gargoyles, fantastic figures that we want to share with you.
Doctora en Historia del Arte. Investigadora especializada en el estudio de las gárgolas.