Himalayan Art Resources

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

སྒྲོལ་མ། སྣང་བརྙན་ཡོངས། 度母(本尊)(全像)
(item no. 451)
Origin Location Central Tibet
Date Range 1700 - 1799
Lineages Gelug
Size 45.72x29.21cm (18x11.50in)
Material Ground Mineral Pigment, Fine Gold Line on Cotton
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Catalogue # acc.# F1996.12.3
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: Peaceful

Gender: Female

TBRC: bdr:W25346

Interpretation / Description

White Tara, Protecting from all Fears (Tibetan: drol ma kar mo): Kedrub, Tsongkapa on an elephant, Heruka Vajrabhairava, and Shadbhuja Mahakala. Number 9 from the set of Twenty-one Taras of the Lineage of Lord Atisha.

Peaceful, smiling and youthful, white in colour with one face and two hands, the right is in the mudra (gesture) of supreme generosity holding a white 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. She is attired in flowing green and red silks and a lower skirt predominantly of orange. Adorned with gold and jewel ornaments, a tiara of flowers, earrings and necklace; 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-red nimbus and orange areola she sits surrounded by a lush green landscape. A bowl and ornament are placed in front as an auspicious symbol and offering.

At the top center is Lama Tsongkapa with the hands performing the mudra of Dharma Teaching, wearing monastic robes and a yellow pandita hat. Seated in a relaxed manner on the back of a reclining white elephant he is accompanied by two goddesses. At the lower right the monk and scholar Kedrup Geleg Pal Zangpo (1385-1438) offers a symbolic mandala of the universe to the vision of Lord Tsogkhapa appearing as an emanation from the Tushita heaven.

At the top left is Sahaja Heruka Vajrabhairava, dark blue, with the head of a buffalo, holding a curved knife and skullcup embracing the consort. A monk arranges offerings on a table in front.

At the bottom left is the wrathful emanation of Avalokiteshvara, Shadbhuja Mahakala, blue-black in colour, with one face and six hands; surrounded by the flames of pristine awareness. At the right a solitary monk sits happily absorbed in reading beside a table laden with books.

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 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. 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, 450, 331.

Jeff Watt 10-98

Front of Painting
English Translation of Inscription: Left four.

Wylie Transliteration of Inscription: gyon 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
Painting Set: Tara, Twenty-one (Panchen Lama)