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Thai Mythical Creatures You’ll See at Buddhist Temples in Thailand Explained

Thai mythical creatures

The Most Common Thai Mythical Creatures Explained

To the untrained eye, temples in Thailand will look oddly similar. Every time. Seriously, you may catch temple fatigue when backpacking quickly. Fortunately, that can be solved by spending a mere 5 minutes to learn about the Thai mythical creatures you’ll see statues of at temples. After reading this article, you’ll start recognizing these icons just about everywhere you look across Thailand like The Number 23! Don’t lose your mind! 😉

The Singha

Of course the number one pick on our list of Thai mythical creatures is a word we say everyday! Singha Beer, named after the legendary Singha is part of not just the backpackers’ diet but part of Thai culture. The Singha is a creature that most closely resembles a lion and is famed to act as one of Buddha’s protectors. Singha are seen as symbols of strength, leadership, bravery and power among Thai people.

Singha Thai mythical creature

The Garuda

Next up on our tour of Thai legends is the Garuda, which is found in a number of other ancient cultures around the world. Ancient Astronaut theorists claim the Garuda was a traveler from the Pleiades star region, sent to share knowledge to the humans of earth. Hindu origins of the Garuda describe them as messengers of Vishnu and the Thai legends fit the same storyline. 

Buddhist Garuda statue
The Garuda is an absolute chad like Ricardo.

What is a Garuda?

Visually, the Garuda are one you’ll remember easily. The Garuda is half human and half bird, with large wingspans that often grace us with beautiful statues and carvings. If you’re into yoga, just associate this Thai mythical creature with the eagle pose, Garudasana. If you’re into being an alcoholic, the Garuda is also on Singha beer bottles. It’s the gold emblem on the paper near the bottle top.

The Naga

Naga statues are typically placed along the entrances of temples almost like a dog guard of sorts. For example, the stairs of Wat Srisoka in Chiang Mai have a pair of golden Nagas with 3 heads guarding the temple entrance.

What is a Naga?

Nagas are serpent creatures that act as guardians of temples, shrines and spiritual places in general. They are found in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism cultures.

Nagas in Thai Culture

Outside of the highly artistic, valuable and ornate Nagas found at Buddhist temples in Thailand, they are also in Thai architecture quite often. From large corporations to the average Thai person, you’ll find Nagas carved into door frames, windows and rooftops. Rather than guarding sacred grounds, the Naga is used in day-to-day life to ward off evil spirits. In this sense, the Naga serves the same purpose as the Thai spirit house, to protect one’s spirit.

The Makara

The Makara is a personal favorite of mine simply because it’s possibly the most ambitious crossover at the time of its inception. The first time you see a Makara statue, you’ll get whiplash and wonder what you’re looking at. It’s r/hmmm IRL and it’s incredible.

What is a Makara?

The Makara is most easily understood as being the Hindu equivalent of the Capricorn zodiac sign. It is a legendary sea-creature that is part crocodile, part elephant and part serpent. Oh yeah, Makara statues will sometimes have a 5-headed Naga protruding from the Makara’s mouth too. Badass!

Hindu Makara illustration
📷 Photo Credit: Unknown Author, 19th Century Calcutta (WikiMedia)

The Kinnara and Kinnari

The Kinnara and Kinnari are male and female beings that are half-celestial and half-swan. In traditional Hinduism (the roots of many Buddhist iconography), the Kinnara and Kinnari are the original love birds.

No matter what culture you see them depicted in, they will always remain the hopeless love birds who are devoted to each other no matter the odds. Different religions and even different Buddhist doctrines have different stories of the Kinnara and Kinnari, making them one of the most interesting Thai mythical creatures to study.

Kinnara and Kinnari
📷 Photo Credit: Daryn Nakhuda (2007)

Other Thai Mythical Creatures You May Encounter

Less common Thai mythical creatures you may find at temples or even just walking around cities include:

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