By Swami Harshananda
Makara literally means ‘that which harms human beings’.
Makara is a mythological sea-monster and generally represented with the tail of a fish and the trunk of an elephant. Since its representation is seen even in the Bārhut stupa (1st century B. C.) in Madhya Pradesh, it can be taken as an ancient symbol.
In iconographical works, it is often shown as the mount or vehicle of the river-goddess Gaṅgā. In some sculptures, makara is shown like a crocodile.
Viṣṇu is often shown as wearing kuṇḍalas (ear-rings) shaped like a makara. Hence he is called ‘Makarakundaladhara’, ‘the wearer of ear-rings shaped as a makara’. Sometimes Śiva is also shown as wearing it, but only on one of the ears. The other ear has patra or a leaf as the ornament.
The tenth rāśi or zodiacal sign is also known as Makara.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore