Dinoween Day 6: Citipati

I’ve always loved how the word “Citipati” refers to both a protector deity or supernatural being from Buddhism and a dinosaur! I decided to draw a pair of Citipati osmolskae as Citipati. Based off this image here: [Source].

Citipati are often depicted as “…two skeletal deities, one male and the other female, both dancing wildly with their limbs intertwined inside a halo of flames representing change. “, and as you can see, that description heavily influenced this piece. Citipati are normally depicted as dancing, but these two aren’t mad-they’re just trying to keep a straight face before they bust some sick moves.

Disclaimer: By the way, if I have made mistakes in my depiction of the Citipati, please tell me so I can fix it! I researched the artistic practices of Buddhist art before making this, but if I missed something, please let me know!

For @a-dinosaur-a-day​‘s Dinoween challenge.

Citipati, Lords of the Charnel Ground Pyre

According to a Northern Buddhist legend, the Citipati were, in a former existence, two ascetics who were once lost in such deep meditation that they did not notice that a thief had cut off their heads and thrown them in the dust. Since that time they have been ferocious enemies of thieves, having vowed eternal vengeance.


Ran into this video clip on Youtube, of an animatronic Citipati at England’s Twycross Zoo. Impressive! I love the sounds it makes, and the way its eye moves.

In Tibetan Buddhism, the Citipati, or “Lords of the Cemetery” are two mythological Buddhist ascetics, who were so deep in their meditation, they were caught unawares by a thief and beheaded even before they knew they were dead. As a symbol, the Citipati represent the eternal dance of death, and perfect awareness. They are usually depicted as a male/female pair of intertwined skeletons caught up in an ecstatic dance. 

The Ovi: An exercise in speculative evolution…

I’ve been thinking for a while about what might have arisen if the dinosaurs hadn’t gone extinct, and if selective pressures were such that higher intelligence evolved. There have been some popular works on the subject over the years (the classic and extremely human-like “dinosauroids” of Dale Russell, Robert J. Sawyer’s “Quintaglio Ascension” trilogy of sci-fi books, and many other artists working on similar projects); this one is my take on the idea - sentient Oviraptorosaurs.

It seems most other similar projects tend to speculate on elevated cleverness evolving in the Paraves clade, and this makes sense: We know some of the most intelligent extant organisms on Earth (outside of the primates) are birds, especially the crows and ravens, and certain parrots. Some of their closest extinct non-avian dinosaur relatives are the Dromaeosaurids and Troodontids, and these fine animals are popular points of departure for speculative evolutionists. The Maniraptoran clade (of which Dromaeosaurids, Troodontids, modern birds, and Oviraptorosaurs are all a part) has some key attributes that we share: On Earth we have only one data point for human-level intelligence so far, so it seems logical to me to look for other organisms with similar traits when speculating on potential evolution of advanced tool-using intelligence – traits like large brains, high brain to body size ratios, grasping appendages (useful for manipulating the environment), bipedal motion (to keep those grasping appendages unoccupied), living on land (as smart as dolphins are, it would be hard to use fire, smelt metals etc. underwater), and a social structure that puts selective pressure on the ability to out-think and/or cooperate with others of your species.

Personally, I favored the Oviraptorosaurs in part to differentiate my own fiction from the rest. Oviraptorosaurian brain/body ratio may not have been quite as high as that found in the Troodontids, for example, but they do have one additional interesting trait that is similar to our own hominid forebears: probable omnivory. It seems to me that hominid and corvid intelligence may be at least partly linked to social interaction with conspecifics, but also with problem-solving to exploit different food resources. The Dromaeosaurs and Troodontids, it seems, were more likely obligate carnivores and thus would have less evolutionary pressure to develop interesting techniques for obtaining food. That, and I think Oviraptorosaurs look really cool.

This is a work of fiction; I was thinking of potentially writing and illustrating a book on the subject. If you’d like to see more, leave a comment!

Please do not use or reproduce without permission.

Citipati, Lord of the Cemetery, is a Tibetan Buddhist figure which loosely represents intertwined male and female skeletons. These two androgynous figures which together form Citipati are considered to be guardians of cemeteries and are honored by semiannual ritualistic dances. As Citipati is comprised of the two halves of the human body, man and woman, the figure is also said to symbolize the counterparts of the human life cyle, birth and death.