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Where did the Goddess Tara originate?

I recently interviewed a friend in her studio and she's currently working on her course, 22 Day Tara Meditation Challenge creating a spiritual painting practice around the Goddess Tara. Though I took an East Asian Religion course in college, the details about the goddess Tara were fuzzy, and it was enlightening to hear a little history from my friend and the concept is so beautiful it lead me to do more research for a Daily Doodle about the Goddess Tara.

The Goddess Tara, (pronounced tah' rah, whose name in means 'Star') in the form we know today, originated in early Hinduism as the Mother Creator, and her many representations spread around the world under many different names and was adopted by Buddhism from Hinduism by the 3rd century B.C. She is believed to be the most ancient form of Dea still worshipped today.

In later Hindu scriptures, she is depicted as one of the eight major aspects of the Divine Feminine Principle, a loving manifestation in contrast to the fierce-some Kali. Like a star that perpetually consumes its own energy, Tara represents the never-ending desires that fuel all life.

Adopted by Buddhism from Hinduism by the 3rd century B.C. , Tara appears in Buddhism, Jainism, and particularly, Tibetan Lamaism, as a complex array of manifestations: goddess of asceticism and mysticism, mother creator, protectress of all humans as they cross the sea of life.

The most widely known Taras are:

  • Green Tara, known for the activity of compassion, the consort of the Dhyani Buddha Amogasiddhi, and is incarnated in all good women.

  • White Tara, also known for compassion, long life, healing and serenity; also known as The Wish-fulfilling Wheel, or Cintachakra. As White Tara, she rose from a lotus blooming in the lake that formed from the first tear of compassion of great bodhisattva Avalokiteswara (whose human incarnation is the Dalai Lama), and is considered his consort.

  • Red Tara, of fierce aspect associated with magnetizing all good things

  • Black Tara, associated with power

  • Yellow Tara, associated with wealth and prosperity.

  • Blue Tara, associated with transmutation of anger

  • Cittamani Tara, a form of Tara widely practiced in the Gelug School of Tibetan Buddhism, portrayed as green and often confused with Green Tara

There is also recognition in some schools of Buddhism of twenty-one Taras. A practice text entitled "In Praise of the 21 Taras", is recited during the morning in all four sects of Tibetan Buddhism. Some Tibetan Buddhists practice a mantra meditation called Tara Practice. The main Tara mantra is; Om Tare Tu Tare Ture Soha.

The 21 Taras are among the most famous forms of the great Female Buddha. The praises to 21 Taras is still practiced every morning by the devout. Buddhist farmers routinely recite the praises as they work their fields. When in trouble—in need of rescuing, in prison, facing law suit, any distress—practitioners often recite either the main ten-syllable mantra, or the praise to the 21 Taras in Sanskrit, Tibetan or English (see Praise, below)

The great popularity of Tara is evident in the many works of art that depict this bodhisattva in all her forms. Apart from paintings and temple banners, statues of Tara are also very common, normally sculpted from stone or cast in metal. Such statues have found their way into the galleries of museums all around the world, far away from where they were originally made.

For instance, a statue of Tara on display in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is originally from the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal. This statue is dated to the 14th century and is made of a gilt copper alloy with color. Additionally, the statue is richly inlaid with semi-precious stones.

Another statue of Tara, found in the British Museum in London, was featured on the BBC’s A History of the World in 100 Objects. Unlike its counterpart in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this statue originated from Sri Lanka and was made between the 8th and 9th centuries AD. This statue, which is almost life-size, was cast in one piece of solid bronze and was gilded in gold.

Tara is one of the most popular devotional and meditational deities, honored all around the world, practiced by all schools of Vajrayana Buddhism, many Mahayana Buddhists, Hindus, and others.

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