Goddess Tara, a female Buddha and
meditational deity, is arguably the most popular
goddess in the Buddhist pantheon. She is
considered to be the goddess of universal
compassion who represents virtuous and enlightened
The word Tara itself is derived
from the root 'tri' (to cross), hence the implied
meaning:' the one who enables living beings to
cross the Ocean of Existence and Suffering'. Her
compassion for living beings, her desire to save
them from suffering, is said to be even stronger
than a mother's love for her children.
The story of Tara's origin,
according to the Tara Tantra, recounts that aeons
ago she was born as a king's daughter. A spiritual
and compassionate princess, she regularly gave
offerings and prayers to the ordained monks and
nuns. She thus developed great merit, and the
monks told her that, because of her spiritual
attainments, they would pray that she be reborn as
a man and spread Buddhist teachings. She responded
that there was no male and no female, that nothing
existed in reality, and that she wished to remain
in female form to serve other beings until
everyone reached enlightenment, hence implying the
shortfall in the monk's knowledge in presuming
only male preachers for the Buddhist religion.
Thus Tara might be considered one of the earliest
Another legend of Tara is that she
was born from the compassionate tears of
Avalokiteshvara (The Buddha of compassion):
"Homage! Tara, swift, heroic!
With a glance like flashing
from a blooming lotus sprung from the tears
the face of the Lord of the
... Chapter III, Tara
The above verse refers to the
legend of Tara's origin. Avalokiteshvara was
looking down from his heaven on the world of
suffering beings, and he wept to see that more and
more of them were in pain. From the tears
streaming down his face two Taras were born, a
peaceful white one from the left and a fierce
green one from the right. Tara is thus also often
referred to as Avalokiteshvara's consort.
In a historical sense, Tara is
associated with the two pious and virtuous wives
of Tibet's first great religious king, Songsten
Gambo (d. 649). White Tara is associated
with his wife from imperial China, Wen Cheng, and
Green Tara is identified with Bhrkuti, his
To the Buddhists the
symbolism of color is of great import. The
sadhanas (ancient manuals laying down procedures
for worship) are very particular in stipulating
the colors of the deities visualized. This color
is intended not only to unfold the nature of the
deity represented but also to indicate the
functions to be performed by that deity.
Specifically colors are used in the paintings
under a definite mystic scheme, based on the
psychic experiences of the sadhaka (worshipper).
No wonder then that her devotees
visualize Tara in a myriad variety of colors:
'Some have a vision of you
(Tara) as red as the sun with rays
and red than the lac and the vermilion. Others
you blue like the sapphire.
Some again see you whiter than the
milk churned out
of the milky ocean. Still others see you
Your visva-rupa is like a
crystal which changes its color with
the change of
the things around it.'
The most popular of all the known
forms of Tara are the widely worshipped Green and
White Taras. It is believed that the first artists
modeled Green Tara on a young virgin, and the
White Tara on a physically mature, voluptuous
woman. Thus traditionally whereas the Green Tara
is visualized as young girl having a mischievous
and playful nature, the White Tara is represented
as a mature woman, full-breasted and wise. This
tradition survives to the present times.
Green Tara is Tara's most dynamic
manifestation. Her color symbolizes youthful vigor
and activity. The Buddhist Lord of karma (action),
Amoghasiddhi, is also associated with the green
color, thus signifying that they belong to the
same family. This is a further affirmation of the
perception that Green Tara is a goddess of action.
She is often depicted in a posture
of ease with right leg extended, signifying her
readiness to spring into action. The left leg is
folded in the contemplative position on the lotus
pedestal, the two together thus symbolizing the
integration of wisdom and art.
Her left hand, in the gesture of
granting refuge holds the stem of a blue lotus
that floats over her left shoulder as a symbol of
purity and power. With her right hand she makes
the boon-granting gesture.
lotus seat, standing for realization of
(You are) the
emerald-colored, one-faced, two-armed
In youth's full bloom, right
leg out, left drawn in,
Showing the union of
wisdom and art - homage to you!
outstretched branch of the heavenly turquoise
Your supple right hand makes
the boon- granting gesture,
wise to a feast of supreme
As if to an
entertainment-homage to you!
Your left hand
gives us refuge, showing the Three
It says, "You people who see
a hundred dangers,
Don't be frightened-I shall
swiftly save you!"
Homage to you!
signal with blue blue utpala flowers,
beings! Cling not to worldly pleasures.
Enter the great
city of liberation!"
Flower-goads prodding us to
effort-homage to you!
... First Dalai Lama
In visual arts she is shown as
resembling an exceptionally lovely human being in
everything but the color of her skin and the
splendor of her ornaments. The slender, long
proportioned body of the goddess is shown dusky
olive green in color and her coloring reverberates
against the striped cushion of her throne back.
The painting technique itself is extremely
refined, the pigment flat and thin, and it does
not emphasize linear outlining except in the most
subtle way. The mysterious and intriguing nature
of Green Tara is marvelously captured in the
medium of painting by the ingenious blending of
the typical iconographical setting with the color
As for jewelry, beautiful
golden, red and green jewels adorn her. Her
jewelry includes white bracelets, several
necklaces with many pendant gems, and a multi
stringed, long jewel chain that sinuously falls
around her body and over her right arm.
heavenly mansion shaped by the artist of the
Most beautiful, wrought into
Fully adorn you-homage to
Like an emerald mountain
clothed in rainbows,
Your upper body is draped in
Your lovely supple, slender
A skirt of five bright
colors-homage to you!
... First Dalai Lama
The followers of Green Tara
believe that her special powers will help overcome
dangers, fears, and anxieties, and that she will
grant wishes. She is also believed to help one
cross over from danger to safety or from suffering
to happiness. Her femininity imbues her with soft
and compassionate feelings, and she acts very
quickly and directly as a savioress. Representing
active compassion, she is particularly worshipped
for her ability to overcome the most difficult
situations. As the first Dalai Lama puts it, just
by being called to help, she instantaneously saves
the faithful from attacks by the following
- lions and pride
- wild elephants and
- forest fires and hatred
- snakes and envy
- robbers and fanatical
- prisons and avarice
- floods and lust
- demons and doubts
White Tara is often referred to as
the Mother of all the Buddhas. She represents the
motherly aspect of compassion. Her white colour
indicates purity, but also indicates that she is
Truth, complete and undifferentiated.
She has seven eyes: the two usual
eyes, plus an eye in the centre of her forehead
and eyes in each of her hands and feet. These
indicate that she sees all suffering and all cries
for help in the human world using both ordinary
and psychic or extraordinary means of perception.
They thus symbolize the vigilance of her
White Tara has a lovely,
young face. Her ornaments are covered in jewels.
Her silk robes and scarves are painted in an
exceptionally lively manner. Her tight fitting
garments are embossed with large, rich floral
designs. These filmy garments; bright gauzy silks
fluttering from the shoulders and a series of many
hued silken skirts- leave the slender torso and
smoothly rounded breasts uncovered in the manner
of ancient India. The whole effect is so ravishing
that she might well arouse the very passion she is
frequently invoked to calm, were it not that she
inspires the kind of exalted reverence a palace
guard might be expected to feel for a young and
lovely princess entrusted to his care.
With her right hand she makes the
boon granting gesture and her left hand, holding
the stem of a white lotus flower between her thumb
and fourth finger, is in the protection
The elaborate lotus flower, held
in the left hand is called Utpala. It contains
three blooms: the first, with seeds, symbolizes
the past Buddha Kashyapa; the second in full
flower, symbolizes the present Buddha Shakyamuni;
and the third, ready to bloom, symbolizes the
future Buddhas Maitreya. This signifies that White
Tara is the essence of all the three Buddhas of
the past, the present and the future.
She sits with both legs
raised and crossed in the vajra (diamond) position
and regally displays both grace and calm.
Her incomparable beauty have
inspired her worshippers to address her thus:
"Radiant as the eternal snows
in all their glory, homage to the
with full breasts, One face and two arms. And
filled with great
White Tara is an emanation of Tara
who is connected with longevity. She is also
the special goddess who helps her
overcome obstacles, particularly impediments to
the practice of religion.
Indeed in the vast expanse of
Buddhist art the images of the two Taras with
their feminine charm and sophisticated imagery
represent a superior conception unparalleled in
any other art tradition. Open to diverse
interpretations both on the sensual and spiritual
planes these two goddesses have inspired
generations of devotee artists to achieve creative
heights while adhering to the strict
iconographical cannons laid down in the ancient
texts, and in the process acquiring both spiritual
merit and the boon of the Goddess.