Tara (Mahavidya)

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Member of The Ten Mahavidyas
Tara in a form of Ugra-Tara (Violent Tara) in Newari style.
Sanskrit transliterationTārā
AffiliationParvati, Mahavidyas, Devi, Kali
WeaponKhadaga, flaying knife, skull
ConsortAkṣobhya Bhairava, (Shiva)

In the Shaivism and Shaktism tradition of Hinduism, the goddess Tara (Sanskrit: तारा, Tārā) is the second of the ten Mahavidyas. She is considered a form of Adishakti, the tantric manifestation of Parvati. Her three most famous forms are Ekajaṭā, Ugratara, and Nīlasarasvatī (also spelled Neelasaraswati, Neela Saraswati, or Neelsaraswati).[1] Her most famous centre of worship is the temple and the cremation ground of Tarapith in West Bengal, India.


The commonly known origin of Tara is from the 17th chapter of the Rudrayāmala which describes the initial unsuccessful attempts of the sage Vasiṣṭha in worshipping Tara, and the subsequent meeting with the god Vishnu in the form of Buddha in the region called Mahācīna (China) and his eventual success by the means of kaula rites. She is also described as the form of the Atharvaveda.[2] Her Bhairava is named Akṣobhya.[3] According to the Svatantratantra, Tara protects her devotees from difficult (ugra) dangers and so she is also known as Ugratārā.[4] The goddess is all-pervading and also manifests on Earth.[4]

Historical origin[edit]

Tara lithograph

Tara-related beliefs are probably an amalgamation of the beliefs linked to Bhīmā or Nīlā in the geographical region of Oḍḍiyāna which has experienced Buddhist and possibly Taoist influence. The syncretism between Shaivist and Buddhist cults created a congenial atmosphere for the formation of the traditions of Tārā, both a Hindu and a Buddhist goddess. Her pleasant forms were popular amongst the Buddhists, while the cult of Bhīmā-Ekajaṭā was popular mainly amongst the Shaivas, from whom it merged into Vajrayana Buddhism until it was reintroduced by Vasiṣtha from Mahācīna, which is identified on the basis of the Śaktisaṅgamatantra as a small geographical entity between Kailasa, South East of the lake Manasarovar and near Lake Rakshas Tal,[5] or alternatively located somewhere in Central Asia.[6] Some of the forms of the deity like Mahācīnakrama Tara, also known as Ugra-Tara, are worshipped in both Hindu and Buddhist systems. Her sādhanā described by Śāśvatavajra, which was included in the Buddhist collection of sadhanas called the Sādhanāśatapañcāśikā, which was incorporated in the Phetkarīyatantra and was quoted in tantric manuals like the Bṛhat-tantrasāra by Kṛṣṇānanda Agamavāgīśa with some aspects of the iconography and the subsequent interpretations differing between the Hindu and Buddhist systems.[3][7]


Kali (left) and Tara (right) have similar iconography

Tara is often described in these chapters as a fierce deity, holding kartrī (knife), khaḍga (sword), chamara (Fly-whisk) or indivara (lotus) and a single matted braid over her head. She is dark in complexion, tall, with a bulging belly, wears tiger pelts, with her left foot on the chest of a corpse and her right foot placed on a lion or between the thighs of the corpse. She has a terrifying laugh and is fearful. The goddess Tīkṣṇakāntā, who is also considered a form of Tara in the Kalika Purana, has similar iconography with dark-complexion and a single braid (ekajaṭā), and is also pot-bellied.[5]

Hindu goddess Kali and Tara are similar in appearance. They both are described as standing upon a supine corpse sometimes identified with Shiva. However, while Kali is described as black, Tara is described as blue. Both wear minimal clothing, however Tara wears a tiger-skin skirt, while Kali wears only a girdle of severed human arms. Both wear a garland of severed human heads. Both have a lolling tongue, and blood oozes from their mouths. Their appearances are so strikingly similar that it is easy to mistake one for the other. Kali is shown standing in the pratyalidha stance (in which the left foot is forward). Her Bhairava (consort) is Akshobhya, a form of Shiva who is in the form of a naga (serpent) coiled around her matted hair. She wears a crown made of 5 skulls connected with plates of bone. Eight forms of Tara are attested in the Māyātantra quoted in the tantric compendium Tantrasāra and the names are Ekajaṭa, Ugra-Tara, Mahogra, Kameshvari-Tara, Chamunda, Nila-Sarasvati (Neelasaraswati or 'Blue Saraswati'), Vajra-Tara and Bhadrakali.[8]


Tantric scriptures that describe the worship of Tara include Tārātantra, Brahmayāmala, Rudrayāmala, Nīlatantra/Bṛhannīlatantra, Tārātantra, Nīlasarasvatītantra as well as various tantric compendia like Tantrasara by Agamavagisha, Prāṇatoṣiṇī, Tārābhaktisudhārṇava by Narasiṃha Thakkura, or Tārārahasya by Brahmānanda Giri.[9]

Tara is mentioned in the Devi Bhagavata Purana, where it is said that her favourite place is Cīna[10] (China) and also that Svarocisha Manu worshipped the deity on the banks of the Kalindi (Yamuna).[11] She is also attested in the Kalika Purana's 61st, 79th and 80th chapter.

Modern traditions[edit]

In Bengal, the literary works of Ramprasad Sen gave a new phase to the classical secretive worship of Tara, and his devotionalism influenced the image of the deity. He addresses Tara as a daughter in his songs. Sadhak Bamakhepa also was a famous siddha of Tara in the modern era. These devotees introduced a public devotional dimension to the secretive tantric worship of this deity and emphasised her motherliness.[12]


  1. ^ Shastri, Hirananda (1998). The Origin and Cult of Tara.
  2. ^ Avalon, Arthur. "Shakti and Shakta". Sacred Texts.
  3. ^ a b Bühnemann, Gudrun. "The Goddess Mahācīnakrama-Tārā (Ugra-Tārā) in Buddhist and Hindu Tantrism". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies.
  4. ^ a b Pravrajika Vedantaprana, Saptahik Bartaman, Volume 28, Issue 23, Bartaman Private Ltd., 6, JBS Haldane Avenue, 700 105 (ed. 10 October 2015) p.18
  5. ^ a b Bhattacharya, Bikas Kumar (2003). Tara in Hinduism:Study with Textual and Iconographical Documentation. Eastern Book Linkers. ISBN 8178540215.
  6. ^ "Locating Mahāchīna". Sri Kamakoti Mandali. 31 March 2021. Retrieved 25 July 2021.
  7. ^ "Tara (Buddhist Deity) (Himalayan Art)". www.himalayanart.org. Retrieved 15 July 2021.
  8. ^ Bhattacharyya, N. N. (1996). History of the Śākta religion (2nd ed.). New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers. ISBN 81-215-0713-8. OCLC 35741883.
  9. ^ Bhattacharya, Bikas Kumar (2003). Tara in Hinduism, Study with Textual and Iconographical Identification. Eastern Book Linkers. ISBN 8178540215.
  10. ^ "The Devi Bhagavatam: The Seventh Book: Chapter 38". www.sacred-texts.com. Retrieved 24 July 2021.
  11. ^ "The Devi Bhagavatam: The Tenth Book: Chapter 8". www.sacred-texts.com. Retrieved 24 July 2021.
  12. ^ Bhattacharya, Bikas Kumar (2003). Tara in Hinduism:Study with Tetual and Iconographic Documentation. Eastern Book Linkers. ISBN 8178540215.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]