Himalayan Art Resources

Buddhist Deity: Tara Introduction, Three Points

Tara Art History

Tara Introduction, Three Points:
1. Appearance & Ranking
2. Non-iconic & Iconic Forms
3. Colours & Numbers

Video: Introduction: Three Points

Tara is a unique entity, female and youthful, with many different physical characteristics depending on traditional texts and traditions. In art she is understood to function in two general ways, as a devotion object and as an object of meditation.

1. Appearance & Ranking:
Tara is often referred to colloquially as a bodhisattva, however she has the status and ranking of a completely enlightened buddha appearing in a beautiful female form. Tara is often confused with being a bodhisattva because in art the terms peaceful appearance, devi appearance and bodhisattva appearance are all synonyms and refer to a peaceful youthful countenance and shape adorned with beautiful garments and jewelry.

- Bodhisattva (peaceful/goddess) in appearance
- Buddha in ranking (appearing as a female)

2. Non-iconic & Iconic Forms:
Tara has two main divisions of forms (appearance) based on function: non-iconic and iconic. The first refers to forms that are representative of Tara as an object of devotion with loosely defined iconographic characteristics. The second division, iconic, refers to Tara as an object of meditation with clear and precise textually based specifications of iconography.

Examples of Non-iconic Tara:
- Standing (Sculpture)
- Sculpture, non-standard
- Relaxed Posture (Sculpture)
- Others...

3. Colours & Numbers:
Iconic forms of Tara are described in the Tantric textual manuals of India and the later commentarial traditions. A direct method for the study of the many iconographic forms of Tara are by knowing the basic colours and the unique number sets. The complex and obscure forms of Tara are understood based on that foundation of colours and numbers.

Principal Colours:
- Green Tara
- White Tara
- Red Tara

Principal Number Sets:
- Three Deity Tara
- Eight Fears Tara
- Twenty-one Taras

Jeff Watt 11-2021

(The images below are only a selection of examples selected from the links above).