Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Tara (Buddhist Deity) - (general)

སྒྲོལ་མ། སྣང་བརྙན་ཡོངས། 度母(本尊)(全像)
(item no. 237)
Origin Location Eastern Tibet
Date Range 1800 - 1899
Lineages Buddhist
Size 64.77x43.82cm (25.50x17.25in)
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Catalogue # acc.# F1997.15.1
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: Peaceful

Gender: Female

Interpretation / Description

Tara, Ashtabhya (Tibetan: drol ma jig pa gye. English: Tara of the Eight Fears): drowning in water, attacked by lions, burnt by fire, bitten by snakes, rampaging elephants, robbed by thieves, false imprisonment and preyed upon by ghosts and demons.

Beautiful and peaceful, with one face and two hands, the right hand is extended over the knee in the gesture (mudra) of supreme generosity. The left hand is placed at the heart with the thumb and ring finger holding the stem of a pink lotus blossom. Adorned with a tiara of gold and jewels, earrings, necklaces long and short, she wears an upper scarf blue in colour and a variously coloured lower garment. With the right leg extended and the left drawn up in a relaxed posture of 'royal ease' surrounded by an orange nimbus and red aureola she dwells within a rainbow sphere of light. Atop a moon disc and multi-coloured flower blossom rising from a dark blue lotus pond she sits with the Buddha Amitabha above - seated on billowing clouds and resting the two hands in the lap while holding a begging bowl.

Descending from the top left - Tara is protecting from the fear of lions (here the Tibetan artist for purely artistic reasons has represented the lion as a mythical Tibetan snow lion). With the left hand she performs the gesture (mudra) of generosity. Below is Tara holding a water vase in the right hand protecting from fire. At the middle left two monks sit on the sides of a lotus pond and receive protection from the fear of drowning (water) from the central Tara in the painted composition. Standing at the bottom left Tara offers protection from snakes. At the bottom center Tara protects two individuals from a ghostly spirit.

Descending from the top right - Tara protects from the fear of rampaging elephants. Below she protects travelers from the fear of thieves and robbers. At the lower right Tara protects the innocent from false imprisonment by unjust rulers.

From Indian sources Tara is a completely enlightened buddha who had previously promised to appear, after enlightenment, in the form of a female bodhisattva, goddess-like, for the benefit of all beings. In one Tibetan tradition, based on the apocryphal text called the Mani Kabum, Tara is described as emanating as a tear from the form of Avalokiteshvara with eleven heads and one thousand hands.

Practiced in all Schools of Tantric Buddhism her various forms are also found in all four classifications of tantra, both Nyingma and Sarma. Her ten syllable mantra and the short tantra text known as the 'Twenty-One Praises of Tara' spoken by the buddha Samantabhadra are memorized and popularly recited by all Tibetans from the time of early childhood. Her primary activity is to protect from the eight and sixteen fears.

These eight: (1) water, (2) lions, (3) fire, (4) snakes, (5) elephants, (6) thieves, (7) false imprisonment and (8) ghosts are meant literally, but also have a deeper significance. Tantric Buddhism commonly presents an interpretive model having three and sometimes four levels of meaning: 1. Outer, 2. Inner, and 3. Secret. The outer meaning of the eight fears are exactly as described above which are real fears experienced in ancient times and even now in the present day world. They all relate to the physical person and the fears presented in a physical material world. The inner meaning relates to passions, ego and negative emotional characteristics. The inner meaning relates to the mental world. The secret meaning has to do with tantric techniques and philosophies to transform these negative mental states into enlightened Buddhist states.

Jeff Watt 10-98 / 9-2008

Related Items
Publication: Selection of Works - Painting (RMA)

Thematic Sets
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art: Painting Gallery 2
Buddhist Deity: Tara Main Page
Subject: Colours Subject Outline Page
Painting Style: Examples
Buddhist Deity: Tara, Eight Fears