According to Buddhist legend, the makara was originally a whale that saved the lives of five hundred drowning merchants at sea, and then sacrificed itself by providing its own body for food to feed the victims. Because of its compassion and sacrifice, both important virtues in Buddhist philosophy, the whale was then immortalized and transformed into a makara, characterized by the head of a dragon, the body of a whale with wings, and a pearl by its side.
Two jade makara groups depicting these mythical beasts in various forms of transformation, both from the collection of Alan and Simone Hartman, were sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 28 November 2006, lot 1425, and 27 November 2007, lot 1551. A related green jade carving of a pair of leaping makara in the Palace Museum, Beijing, is illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - Jadeware (III), Hong Kong, 1995, p. 61, no. 49.