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Statue of a kinnara in Wat Phra Kaew, Bangkok (Thailand).
For the social group or caste amongst the Sinhalese of Sri Lanka, see Kinnaraya

In Buddhist mythology and Hindu mythology, a kinnara is a paradigmatic lover, a celestial musician, half-human and half-horse (India) or half-bird (south-east Asia). Their character is clarified in the Adi parva of the Mahabharata, where they say:

We are everlasting lover and beloved. We never separate. We are eternally husband and wife; never do we become mother and father. No offspring is seen in our lap. We are lover and beloved ever-embracing. In between us we do not permit any third creature demanding affection. Our life is a life of perpetual pleasure.[1]

They are also featured in a number of Buddhist texts, including the Lotus Sutra. An ancient Indian string instrument is known as the Kinnari Veena.

In Southeast Asian mythology, Kinnaris, the female counterpart of Kinnaras, are depicted as half-bird, half-woman creatures. One of the many creatures that inhabit the mythical Himavanta. Kinnaris have the head, torso, and arms of a woman and the wings, tail and feet of a swan. She is renowned for her dance, song and poetry, and is a traditional symbol of feminine beauty, grace and accomplishment.


  • Nomenclature, orthography and etymology 1
  • Burma 2
  • Cambodia 3
  • India 4
  • Indonesia 5
  • Thailand 6
  • Tibet 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9

Nomenclature, orthography and etymology

'shang-shang' (Tibetan: ཤང་ཤངWylie: shang shang); (Sanskrit: civacivaka); (Japanese: 緊那羅 Kinnara)


The flag of Kayah State (Karenni State) includes a depiction of the kinnara.
Shan kinnara and kinnari dance

In Burma (Myanmar), kinnara are called keinnaya or kinnaya (ကိန္နရာ ). Female kinnara are called keinnayi or kinnayi (ကိန္နရီ ). In Shan, they are ၵိင်ႇၼရႃႇ (Shan pronunciation: ) and ၵိင်ႇၼရီႇ (Shan pronunciation: ) respectively. Burmese Buddhists believe that out of the 136 past animal lives of Buddha, four were Kinnara. The kinnari is also one of the 108 symbols on the footprint of Buddha. In Burmese art, kinnari are depicted with covered breasts. The Myanmar Academy Awards statue for Academy Award winners is of a kinnari.[2] The kinnara and kinnari couple is considered the symbol of the Karenni people.[3]


In Cambodia, the kinnaras are known in the Khmer language as kenar (កិន្នរ, កិន្នរា; IPA:  or IPA: ). The female counterpart, the kinnari (កិន្នរី; IPA: ), are depicted in Cambodian art and literature more often than the male counterparts. They are commonly seen carved into support figurines for the columns of post-Angkorian architecture. Kinnari are considered symbols of beauty and are skilled dancers.[4] The kinnari is a character archetype in the repertoire of the Royal Ballet of Cambodia, appearing as mischievous groups that have a strong allurement. A classical dance titled robam kinar depicts kinnaris playing in a lotus pond.


In the Sanskrit language, the name Kinnara contains a question mark (Sanskrit : किन्नर?) i.e is this man?. In Hindu mythology, Kinnara is described as half-man, half-horse, and half-bird. The Vishnudharmottara describes Kinnara as half-man and half-horse, but the correct nature of Kinnara as Buddhists understood is half-man and half-bird. The figure of Yaksha with a horse head illustrated in Bodh Gaya sculptures in however a Kinnari as the Jataka illustrating it treats her as a demi-god. According to the Jatakas, Kinnaras are fairies and are shown as going in pairs noted for mutual love and devotion. In the Chanda Kinnara Jataka the devotion of the Kinnarai to her wounded Kinnara husband brings Indra on the scene to cure him from the wound. The Kinnaras are noted for their long life. [5]

The Jatakas describe the Kinnaras as innocent and harmless, hop like birds, are found of music and song, and with the female beating a drum and male playing on lute. Such harmless creatures are described in Jataka No.481 as being caught, put into cages, and thus presented to kings for their delight. In Jataka No.504, we have the autobiography of a Kinnara who describes the Kinnara class as human-like the wild things deem us; huntsmen call us goblins still. The Kinnaras can sing, play the flue and dance with soft movements of the body. Kalidasa in his Kumara Sambhava describes them as dwelling in the Himalayas. Kinnaras lived also over the hills of Pandaraka, Trikutaka, Mallangiri, Candapabbata, and Gandhamandana (Jataka No. 485). They were tender-hearted and Jataka No. 540 refers to the story of the Kinnaras nursing a human baby whose parents have gone away to the woods. Yet, we find that they were looked upon as queer animals and were haunted, captured and presented to the kings as entertainment. Flowers formed their dress. Their food was flower pollen and their cosmetics were of flower perfumes. [6]

The depiction of Kinnara in early Indian art is an oft-repeated theme. The ancient sculptures of Sanchi, Barhut, Amaravati, Nagarjunakonda, Mathura, and the paintings of Ajanta depict Kinnaras invariably. Frequently, they are seen in the sculptures flanking the stupas. In this case, they hold garlands or trays containing flowers in their hands for the worship of the Stupas. Sometimes, the Kinnaras appear in the sculptures holding garland in right hand and tray in the left hand. They also appear before Bodhi-Drumas, Dharmacakras, or playing a musical instrument. As such, the portrayal of Kinnaras in early Indian sculpture art is very common. [7]


Kinnara (male), Kinnari (female), Apsara, and Devata guarding Kalpataru, the divine tree of life. 8th century Pawon temple, Java, Indonesia.

The images of coupled Kinnara and Kinnari can be found in Borobudur, Mendut, Pawon, Sewu, Sari, and Prambanan temples. Usually, they are depicted as birds with human heads, or humans with lower limbs of birds. The pair of Kinnara and Kinnari usually is depicted guarding Kalpataru, the tree of life, and sometimes guarding a jar of treasure. A pair of Kinnara-Kinnari bas-reliefs of Sari temple is unique, depicting Kinnara as celestial humans with birds' wings attached to their backs, very similar to popular image of angels.

There are bas-relief in Borobudur depicting the story of the famous kinnari, Manohara.


Sculpture of a kinnari which was decorated in the royal crematorium of Princess Galyani Vadhana at Sanam Luang, Bangkok, Thailand (2008).

The Kinnari, (usually spelt 'Kinnaree' as noted below) (Thai: กินรี) in Thai literature originates from India, but was modified to fit in with the Thai way of thinking. The Thai Kinnari is depicted as a young woman wearing an angel-like costume. The lower part of the body is similar to a bird, and should enable her to fly between the human and the mystical worlds.

The most famous Kinnari in Thailand is the figure known as Manora (derived from Manohara), a heroine in one of the stories collected in "Pannas Jataka" a Pali tome written by a Chiangmai Buddhist monk and sage around AD 1450-1470. This is supposed to be a collection of 50 stories of the past lives of the Buddha, known to Buddhists as the Jataka. The specific tale about Manora the Kinnaree was called Sudhana Jataka, after Prince Sudhana, the bodhisattva who was also the hero of the story and the husband of Manora.

It has been speculated that the stories of Manora/Manohara told in Southeast Asia might related to the stories of the Weaver Girl and the Cowherd, popular in China, Japan and Korea.

The story inspired a dance called Manorah Buchayan, which is one of the most esoteric among the high classical dances of Thailand, as well as the "Norah" dance of southern Thailand.

The male counterpart of the female Kinnari is a Kinnon (Thai: กินนร).


In Tibet the Kinnara is known as the 'shang-shang' (Tibetan: ཤང་ཤངWylie: shang shang) (Sanskrit: civacivaka). This chimera is depicted either with just the head or including the whole torso of a human including the arms with the lower body as that of a winged bird. In Nyingma Mantrayana traditions of Mahayoga Buddhadharma, the shang-shang symbolizes 'enlightened activity' (Wylie: phrin las). The shang-shang is a celestial musician and is often iconographically depicted with cymbals. A homonymic play on words is evident which is a marker of oral lore: the 'shang' (Tibetan: གཆངWylie: gchang) is a cymbal or gong like ritual instrument in the indigenous traditions of the Himalaya. The shang-shang is sometimes depicted as the king of the Garuda.

See also


  1. ^ Ghosh, Subodh (2005). Love stories from the Mahabharata, transl. Pradip Bhattacharya. New Delhi: Indialog.  p. 71
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Headley, Robert K. (1997). Modern Cambodian-English Dictionary, Dunwoody Press
  5. ^ "Mythical Animals in Indian Art". Abhinav Publications. 1985. 
  6. ^ "Mythical Animals in Indian Art". Abhinav Publications. 1985. 
  7. ^ "Mythical Animals in Indian Art". Abhinav Publications. 1985. 
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