Green Tara (Syamatara)
Tibetan bronze images of Buddhist deities and stupas are cast hollow so that the required scrolls of mantras and prayers can be inserted together with sacred substances and relics. Once this is done, the bottom is sealed by a copper plate marked with a double vajra symbolizing the immutable state of enlightenment. Bronze images are gilded with pure gold and ornamented with jewels such as the turquoise insets seen here. The hair is painted blue (orange if the deity is wrathful), the lips are colored red, and the eyes are painted with colored irises and red highlights to appear completely lifelike. After the scrolls and relics are installed and the copper plate is sealed, the image is consecrated in a ritual that invites the deity to merge into the image so that it is not merely a symbol but a living presence of the deity. The sculpture then qualifies to reside on the altar, to accept the worship and offerings of devotees, and to function as a source of blessings and powers.
Tara is seen here in her classic form. She is a youthful goddess, full of energy and active compassion. She wears the five-pointed jewel crown of the Five Buddhas, and a high topknot in which the lord of her lineage, Amitabha, is often seen to reside. Half of her long, blue-black hair is gathered into a topknot, while the remainder cascades over her shoulders. Her prominent breasts correspond to her role as the loving mother who cherishes and nurtures all beings. Tara’s right hand is extended down over her right knee in the gesture of granting boons (varada mudra), indicating that she bestows upon devotees all spiritual accomplishments (siddhi ) including the attainment of Buddhahood.
Her left hand is in the gesture of granting refuge from every danger (abhaya mudra). This is perhaps Tara’s most well-known function. She protects from all fears, miseries, calamities, and disasters, including disease, untimely death, attacks by wild beasts, harm from fire, floods, earthquakes, criminals, corrupt officials, poison snakes, and magic spells. It is often for this protective function that Tara is widely worshipped and propitiated.
Both of Tara’s hands hold the stem of an utpala lotus that blossoms above each shoulder. She sits upon a broad lotus throne. As is the case with Padmapani, the lotus represents the state of enlightenment that is the perfect union of wisdom and compassion. Tara’s costume consists of a lower garment of clinging, diaphanous silk; as a resident of the transcendental realms of enlightened deities, she wears no other clothing, but is adorned with jewelry consisting of a complete set of divine ornaments.
Robert Warren Clark, "Green Tara," in The Arts of India, South East Asia, and the Himalayas, Anne R. Bromberg (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), 170.
- Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, The Met
Read more about Tibetan Buddhist art.