Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Tara (Buddhist Deity) - (Atisha, 21 Taras)

སྒྲོལ་མ། སྣང་བརྙན་ཡོངས། 度母(本尊)(全像)
(item no. 294)
Origin Location Central Tibet
Date Range 1700 - 1799
Lineages Gelug
Size 49.53x29.21cm (19.50x11.50in)
Material Ground Mineral Pigment, Fine Gold Line on Cotton
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Catalogue # acc.# F1997.17.4
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: Peaceful

Gender: Female

TBRC: W25346

Interpretation / Description

Red Tara, Very Heroic (Tibetan: drol ma mar mo): 3rd Panchen Lobzang Palden Yeshe, Dalai Lama, Vajrabhairava, Magzor Gyalmo, Dorje Setrab, and Chingkarwa. The first and central image from the set of Twenty-one Taras of the lineage of Lord Atisha.

Red in colour with one face and two hands, the right hand is in the mudra (gesture) of supreme generosity holding a red vase of power extended across the knee. The left hand is held to the heart with the thumb and forefinger holding the stem of a red and blue utpala flower blossoming at the left ear. Peaceful, smiling and youthful she is adorned with flowing green silks and various other colours, gold and jewel ornaments, gold tiara and the like; seated with the right leg slightly extended in a relaxed manner and the left drawn up. On a moon disc and multi-coloured lotus seat encircled by a blue-red nimbus and orange aureola she sits surrounded by a lush green landscape. A victory banner is placed in front as an auspicious symbol and offering.

At the top center is a lama performing the mudra of blessing with the right hand and holding a book in the lap with the left. Wearing monastic robes and a yellow pandita hat he is seated on brocade cushions above a throne with an ornate backrest. To the left is Vajrabhairava (Yamantaka), dark blue, with 9 heads and 32 hands and 16 legs, embracing the consort Vajra Vetali. To the right is a lama performing the mudra of blessing and holding the stem of a lotus blossoming at the right ear. The left hand holds a book in the lap. Wearing monastic robes and a yellow hat he sits on a cushion with a backrest. (This iconographic form is characteristic of the Dalai Lamas). Below, the Lord Tsongkapa, performing the Dharma Teaching mudra, is seated on a square throne with Manjushri to the left and wrathful Vajrapani to the right. A solitary monk kneels with reverence on a mat in front.

At the bottom center is the wrathful protector Magzor Gyalmo, dark blue, with one face and two hands, riding a mule; surrounded by dark black smoke and wisps of flame. At the left is the worldly protector Setrap Chen, red, with one face and two hands wearing an elaborate helmet with pendants and the attire of a warrior, holding a stick and lasso; riding a brown horse. At the right is the worldly protector Chingkarwa, white, with one face and two hands holding a lance in the right and a bowl of jewels in the left; riding a white horse.

Tara is a completely enlightened buddha who had previously promised to appear, after enlightenment, in the form of a female bodhisattva and goddess for the benefit of all beings. Her primary activity is to protect from the eight fears. Practiced in all Schools of Tibetan Buddhism her various forms are found in all classes of tantra - Nyingma and Sarma.

From the tantra known as the 'Twenty-One Praises of Tara' spoken by the buddha Samantabhadra arises a system of practice with 21 Tara emanations - 1 for each verse of praise. Each form of Tara has a specific colour and accomplishes a specific activity. Based on that, there are 3 well known and distinct lineages for the set of 21 Taras; Pandita Suryagupta, Lord Atisha and the lineage from the Nyingma Lama - Longchenpa. Aside from these 3 lineages there are other less well known sets of 21 Taras as well as numerous individual forms and lineages. The 3 main lineages do not share the same iconographic forms. In the Atisha system all the Taras appear in the same basic posture with equal faces and hands and only differ in the colour of the body and vase held in the right hand of each. Green is the primary colour of Tara, however green is not included in the enumeration of the 21. There are 4 red Taras, 6 white, 3 yellow, 4 orange, 2 red-black and 2 black Taras for a total of 21.

This painting belongs to a set of 21 depicting all the forms of Tara according to the Atisha Lineage. A short inscription is written in the aureola above Tara's head. See others from the same set 336, 337, 338, 339, 340, 450, 451, 331.

Jeff Watt 9-98

Front of Painting
English Translation of Inscription: The main [image] of the Twenty-one Taras.

Wylie Transliteration of Inscription: sdrol ma nyi shu rtsa gcig gi rtso thar.

Reverse of Painting
Special Features: (handprints, includes additional imagery)

Secondary Images
Related Items
Thematic Sets
Buddhist Deity: Tara (Atisha Tradition)
Tradition: Gelug Deity Paintings
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art: Painting Gallery II
Buddhist Deity: Tara Main Page (Paintings)
Buddhist Deity: Tara, Red (Atisha Tradition)
Painting Set: Tara, Twenty-one (Panchen Lama)
Buddhist Deity: Tara, Red (All Forms)