Himalayan Art Resources

Buddhist Deity: Tara Set Comparison (Surya & Atisha)

Twenty-one Taras (Khyenri)

There are two painting sets that are identified as likely originating from the same Khyenri painting atelier although separated by possibly several decades. The sets depict two different systems of the Twenty-one Taras. The earlier set with only three known remaining compositions is of the Atisha tradition. The later set dated to the first decade of the 1600s is of the Surya Gupta tradition of Twenty-one Taras. An additional painting of Green Tara is also included in the group which is not unusual. The set is housed in the Tibet Museum, Lhasa, China.

Video: Three Taras

The Atisha set, with three examples, is painted in a more classical style of Khyenri than the Surya Gupta set. The Atisha set depicts only a single figure of Tara with no secondary figures. The Surya Gupta set includes five secondary figures with three at the top and two at the bottom of the composition per painting.

The additional Green Tara composition, added to the Surya Gupta set, closely matches the three Atisha images in body proportions, jewelry and garments. Both sets include the Five Offering Goddesses of the Senses in the foreground in the lower composition. The five figures are uniform in colour between the two sets. The goddesses are blue, green, white, yellow and red. They randomly alternate positions between the individual paintings.

Painting HAR #87266, has a stupa atop a mountain, located to the proper left of the seated white Tara. This same stupa image can be found with HAR #83346 at the same location in the composition. The gold vase with two flowers and the Five Offering Goddesses in the foreground are all similar in colour and form. At the middle left side there are two tigers found in both compositions. The trees and stone work at the upper left and right are the same as well.

The background landscape of HAR #87265 appears to be a model for the Surya Gupta Green Tara (HAR #83333).

The background landscape of HAR #87267 and the two small boys peeking from under the lotus seat appears to be the model for HAR #83344.

A solitary painting of Shakyaprabha (HAR #18643) from a nine painting set is similar in style and palette to the three Atisha tradition paintings.

Jeff Watt 3-2021