Himalayan Art Resources

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

སྒྲོལ་མ། སྣང་བརྙན་ཡོངས། 度母(本尊)(全像)
(item no. 450)
Origin Location Central Tibet
Date Range 1700 - 1799
Lineages Gelug
Size 45.72x29.21cm (18x11.50in)
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Catalogue # acc.# F1996.12.2
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: Peaceful

Gender: Female

TBRC: bdr:W25346

Interpretation / Description

Red-black Tara, Defeating Enemies and Daemons (Tibetan: drol ma mar nag): Yungton Dorje Pal, Rakta Yamari, and Bhagavan (Sadhu) Mahakala. Number 8 from the set of Twenty-one Taras of the Lineage of Lord Atisha.

With one face and two hands, maroon in colour, she exhibits a slightly stern gaze with an open mouth and short fangs bared. The right hand is in the mudra (gesture) of supreme generosity holding a maroon vase extended across the knee. The left hand is held to the heart with the thumb and forefinger holding the stem of a blue and red utpala flower blossoming at the left ear. Youthful, she wears a flowing green silk upper garment and a skirt of various colours. Adorned with gold and jewel ornaments, a tiara of flowers and the like; seated with the right leg slightly extended in a relaxed manner, the left drawn up. On a moon disc and multi-coloured lotus seat encircled by a blue-orange nimbus and red areola she sits surrounded by lush green landscape. A blue lapis lazuli bowl with wishing jewels and a gold Dharma Wheel is placed in front as an auspicious symbol and offering.

At the top left is the wrathful tutelary deity, Rakta Yamari, red in colour with one face and two hands embracing the consort, surrounded by flames; standing on the back of a red buffalo. At the right is Lama Yunton Dorje Pal (b.1284), disciple of Buton Rinchen Drup and pre-incarnation of the Panchen Lamas, holding up a kila with the right hand and offering a skullcup to a wrathful face appearing amidst smoke and flames. He wears monastic robes and a red pandita hat; seated in a relaxed posture.

At the bottom left are three monks wearing orange and yellow robes, red and yellow pandita hats and seated upon the ground in a respectful manner. At the right is Mahakala, blue-black, with one face and two hands holding in the right hand a sandalwood staff and a skullcup in the left; attired fully in body length robes of green and blue, surrounded by orange fire of pristine awareness.

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 emanations - 1 for each verse of praise. Each form of Tara has a specific colour and accomplishes a special 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 there are other less 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. Some have a slightly fierce facial expression. 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 areola above Tara's head. See others from the same set 336, 337, 338, 339, 340, 451, 331.

Jeff Watt 10-98

Front of Painting
English Translation of Inscription: Right four.

Wylie Transliteration of Inscription: gyas bzhi pa.

Secondary Images
Related Items
Thematic Sets
Buddhist Deity: Tara (Atisha Tradition)
Tradition: Gelug Deity Paintings
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art: Painting Gallery 2
Buddhist Deity: Tara Main Page
Buddhist Deity: Tara, Red (Atisha Tradition)
Painting Set: Tara, Twenty-one (Panchen Lama)
Buddhist Deity: Tara, Red (All Forms)