Tara in Hinduism: Study with Textual and Iconographical Documentation

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Item Code: IDJ751
Author: Bikas Kumar Bhattacharya
Publisher: Eastern Book Linkers
Edition: 2003
ISBN: 9788178540214
Pages: 414 (53 B/W Plates)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.6" X 7.2"
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Book Description
From the Jacket

Tara, the second Mahavidya of the Sakta pantheon, is an extremely popular goddess of the Hindus in eastern India, particularly in Assam and West Bengal.

This documentation will help a researches to make a through investigation into the Brahmanical cult of Tara, especially, in the background of cultural and ideological developments of India.

The Ist Chapter presents a survey of the development of the concepts of the Mother Goddess in ancient India as gleaned from textual and archaeological sources, vis-à-vis the seedling of the godhead of Tara in her pleasant and terrible forms.

The IInd chapter comprises a catalogue of 265 antique images of Tara. It outlines their antiquity and provenance.

The IIIrd chapter includes: (i) Sanskrit (roman) text, with English translation of the Taratantra, selections from the Rudrayamala and the Brahma-yamala-(ii) summaries in English of 26 primary texts of the Brahmanical cult of Tara; (iii) descriptive union catalogue of manuscripts of 150 Sanskrit texts relating to this cult.

The IVth chapter deals with textual interpretations of 55 terms highlighting their historical, cultural, social, religious, spiritual and philosophical imports in order to get a holistic understanding of the cult.

The Vth chapter draws a linear development of the cult; probes into its genesis in the pre-Vedic Indus Valley civilization down to its contributions to the formation of the spirit of swadeshi in present days.

Bhattacharya, Bikash Kumar (b. 1953), Ph. D., B.LIS., is an avid researcher of Indian religion and culture. As an incumbent in the Library of Congress (New Delhi), the Indira Gandhi National Centre of the Arts, and the Sahitya Akademi he has earned professional skill in the preparation of Indological bibliography and documentation.


There is a little background story of this thesis. In 1983 I went through the Taratantra and found it extremely interesting. It is a tiny work indeed. But it is enriched in cultic information of profound significance, particularly its naïve statement about Hindu-Buddhist harmony, which laid the foundation for the development of the cult of Tara as the second Mahavidya. Also it refers to the introduction of an extra-territorial religious and spiritual practice called the Cinacara method of worship resulted from Indo-Chinese cultural relations. I started translating it; also engaged myself in the reading and collecting information about various aspects of the cult of Tara from Buddhist and Brahmanical sources. Gradually I discovered a large number of modern works on the Mahayana Tara, while the number of the works on the Brahmanical Tara as well as the subject-coverage was surprisingly poor and limited. Above al, there is hardly any work which has brought out the origin, development and cultic features of these two traditions in a cohesive manner. On the contrary, these two traditions are often presented by scholars as rivals; whereas in reality I found them as supplementary to each other though at time here are hostalities between them. My interest for this cult depens further when I discovered that the 'heroic' mode of worship of 'Mother Goddess' might have been transformed spiritually into the patriotic struggle for freedom of 'Mother India'; also it has cultivated a rich variety of literature. Art and music while the followers of this cult are generally considered as perverted spiritualists who are wanton in the enjoyment of meat, fish wine and sex and indulge in awful religious practices, the Black Magic. Meanwhile I grappled another problem: why are how the popular cult of Tara has become virtually grisly and gone into oblivion. Also it appeared to me that as the consequence of changes in cultural and religious life we have already lost several precious elements of our heritage. I felt that documentation of various aspects of our religious life is very helpful in this regard. I thought the cult of Tara would be the most appropriate.

But then I was wandering in the woods information. I never knew how to deal with them until Prof. Sachchidananda Sahai appeared as guru. He had shown me the path passing through which today I am able to present this thesis in this form. The emphasis, however, has been laid on the documentation part of the thesis consisting catalogue of icons, translations, summaries and description of manuscripts of Sanskrit texts, and glossary-type interpretation of textual terms and words.

Hinduism is a mosaic of different religious traditions as well as cults such as Brahmanism, Vaishnavism, Saivism. Saktism, Ganapatyas, Sauras, etc. The Brahmanism, Vaishnavism, Saivism, and Saktism constitute the mainstream of Hinduism even today. Brahmanism is the propagator of the Vedic cult, while Vaishnavism, Saivism and Saktism are preeminently Tantric.

Although there are several Tantric traditions but Daksinacara or Samyacara, the right-wing, and the Vamacara or Kaulacara, the left-wing, are the major ones. Vamacara evidences the most archaic form of Tantric cult, while Daksinacara (though theologically both the wings are very close to each other) is nothing but a modernized version of Tantrism that meets the changing sociocultural test, ethos and morale of the contemporary society.

Saktism represents the culture of the matriarchal people both from the mainstream as well as of the underprivileged ones. Deities of the mainstream emerged as major godheads in Hindu pantheon. Whereas deities of the underprivileged ones were successful in securing the secondary position. Such bipartite system (vaidiki-tantriki ca or Vedic and Tantric) took place as a result of Brahmanization of Indian culture of the localities like Bengal, Orissa, Bihar, Assam, Kashmir and the South which were predominantly Tantric or more specially Vaishnava Saiva or Sakta. As a result of such cultural assimilation. The cult of the Mahavidyas appeared specially in Gupta era when Brahmanism was at the lead of the cultural life of India and consolidated its threshold over Tantrism in particular.

Tara is the second Mahavidya in Hindu pantheon. She is also a major Mahayana Buddhist deity specially worshipped in India, Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, Tibet, China, Mongolia and Indochina. (Though in remote past she was a major deity of Mongolia and China but for a pretty long time she has lost her vigour therein.) Tara is also worshipped in Jainism as a counterpart of a Tirthankara.

It is rather difficult to assert as to whether Hindu Tara is a product of the Buddhist Tara and vice versa. But from the literary evidences (cf. Guhyasamajatantra) it may be said that the Buddhist Tara has been worshipped even in the fourth century A. D. While literary evidences for the Hindu counter part is not so old. But this evidence alone is not sufficient to claim Buddhist origin of Hindu Tara since she is pre-emenently a major deity of the people of Eastern India who have not organized themselves as a major religious order like Vedic, Buddhist or Jaina: they do not have any vihara - nor matha -kind of institutions which can serve as the depository of their literature and sculpture. Consequently the literature representing the cult is not so ancient, though its contents speaks of hoary antiquity.

In Eastern India, though Mahavidyas are ten in number, the cult of Kali (the first Mahavidya) and Tara are prevalent since remote past. While as a result of the movement for consolidating Tantrism (more specifically to say Saktism) against the colossal influence of the Brahmanical Puranic cult, the cults of ten Mahavidyas gradually merged into one, the cult of Kali, in which the cult of Tara has a considerable contribution. Today the cult of Tara is prevalent only in close association with the cult of Kali, today they are inseperable per se.

It appears that upto seventeenthcentury A. D. the cult of Hindu Tara has its independent existence as a major Sakta cult. Till that period it has produced a rich literary heritage presenting hymns, songs, prayers, treatises on liturgy and ritualism, philosophy, etc. in Sanskrit mostly. The cult of Tara has considerable contribution to the promotion of the cultural life of Bengal specially through music, painting, festivals. Devotional songs of Ramaprasada deserve special mention. It has an enormous impact on the devotional as well as secular traditions of modern Bengali poetry and songs. Kalipuja or Symapuja is the second largest festival of Bengal.

Hinduism, the depository of Indian culture, is changing rapidly. In the course of socioeconomic development, with the rise of new concepts, ethos and values, the ancient ones are silently destined for oblivion. By this process of change we are loosing most of basic elements of our continuing culture leading us to an increasing state of cultural deplete, a total self-annihilation. The cult of Tara constitutes the focal point of the cultural life of Eastern India. A study on it will enable us to understand as to how a living cult is getting lost.

In the first chapter a survey has been made on the development of the concept of the Mother Goddess in early ancient India, upto the Kusana age. As gleaned from the archaeological findings and literary sources. This has helped me to locate the ancient or earliest source of the godhead Tara in her pleasant and terrible forms.

In this period we can envisage a process of formation of the cult of Tara to begin, at least in the form of a conceptualization of any form of Great Mother Goddess as the Saviouress (tara or tarini) from evils and dangers. In this stage we do not find the goddess Tara proper, neither the Buddhist nor the Brahmanical. Then Tara or tarini was a mere epithet. While the godhead of Tara appeared in early Gupta period as an individual deity. The prevailing concept of tara-tarini was incorporated exclusively into the theology of this newly emerged godhead of Tara, the Goddess Saviouress. While every Mother Goddess is capable of ensuring safety to her devotees. Both the Buddhists and the Brahmanical Saivas (Kapalikas) accepted this new goddess simultaneously. Her pleasant form became popular among the Buddhist while the Saivas worshipped her terrible form popularly known as Bhima-Ekajata. With the growth of Vajrayana the pleasant from of Tara took the lead and pushed the Brahmanical fierceful Tara to the back as a mere attendant. At this stage, the cult of Bhima-Ekajata was greatly incorporated into Vajrayanism. But it failed to earn popularity. Gradually the cult of Bhima-Ekajata earned serious set-back: in the Buddhist fold it lost the existence till it was revived by Siddha Nagarjuna in tenth century A. D. from Tibet; while in the Brahmanical side it continued its existence in a dwindling state fixing her identity with Paravati-Durga until Vasistha introduced Cinacara form of her worship in a period between sixth and eighth centuries A. D.

The second chapter presents a survey of two hundred sixty-five antique images of Tara. Brahmanical devotees make hardly any distinction between the pleasant and terrific forms of Tara and they worship Ekajata, Tara, Ugratara, Mahacinatara, Nila-Sarasvati and Kurukulla as identical. A Brahmanical devotee does hardly care about the inner dhyana-image and the outer sculpture or painting of Tara. Therefore iconographical features of Ekajata, Kurukulla, Tara and ugratara have been presented in this chapter.

Above all, there is striking iconographical confusion about Tara among the Hindus. Even the present chief priest of the Ugratarasthan at Guwahati, I found, was not able to distinguish them. He identified the popular image of Tara of Tarapeeth (Birbhum district, West Bengal) as Kali. The iconographical paradoxes of Tara is so intense that hardly any image of Tara available now conforms to her dhyana-mantra. Even the images enshrined at the Tara Temple at Kamakhya, Ugratarasthan at Guwahati and Tara Temple at Tarapeeth are not strictly identical with the dhyana-mantra.

In the third chapter a textual survey has been conducted on the different aspects of the Brahmanical cult of Tara. This is consisted of the text and English translation of the Taratantra, one of the major works of the cult, supplemented by selected portions in Sanskrit with English translation from the Brahmayamala and the Rudrayamala, two authoritative texts presenting the legend about the origin of the Brahmanical cult of Tara, specially in the form of Cinacara mode of worship. Then follows a compendium of English summaries of the selected portions from twenty-six Brahmanical Tantric and Puranic texts. It is very important to note that there is no myth of Tara found in the major eighteen Puranas; even none of them has referred to the origin of ten Mahavidyas. From these texual documentations we can learn that Tara has been considered identical with Parvati-Durga and Kali from a long time. This section presents a comprehensive account on (and a first hand information about) various aspects of the Brahmanical cult of Tara, that has been originated as Ugratara or Mahacinatara, from its Buddhist counterpart and later on transformed into the second Mahavidya. The last portion of this chapter presents a union catalogue of manuscripts of one hundred fifty works dealing with the Brahmanical cult of Tara. It furnishes a testimony for the widespread popularity of the cult in medieval India, particularly in Eastern part. Also it provides a useful toll for setting up chronological data for the cult.

In the fourth chapter, an attempt has been made to underline the significance of the cult of Tara in the Brahmanical culture and spiritualism; also the changes took place at different points of time for different causes have been brought to the focal point under the entries like Cinacara, Mahavidya, Parvati, Tara, Siva-Buddha, Vasistha particularly. This chapter is in the form of annotation of fifty-five terms and words essential for a holistic understanding of the cult, particularly through a textual study. The historic, cultural, social, religious, philosophical and spiritual imports of these terms and words have been highlighted.

Kali is an indigenous deity. She is black but pleasant, in stark contrast with her terrible form as she is commonly known today. Gradually she became identified with Uma (Ommo or Ummi of the Sakas) or Gauri; orthodox etymological meaning of Uma in the Mahabharata (III. 43) and Kalidasa's Kumarasambhava (I. 26) as a combination of u 'oh daughter' and ma 'no' (Oh daughter! Don't act like this, i.e. don't perform such a severe penance for securing Siva as your husband- alarmed such by her mother she became Uma) seems somewhat far-fetched. The dark complexion of the deity became white, perfectly in tune with the change of sociopolitical power. In the Kusana age the trans-Himalayan Siva-Parvati cult joined in it. Now she is Parvati, wife of Siva. This cult of Parvati gained popularity through the Mahabharata (in the nucleic form), the Kumarasambhava of Kalidasa (in the fuller form) and various Puranas (in elaborate details). The cults of Durga Mahisasuramardini, Candika and Bhadrakali with shamanic traits assimilated with Parvati in the pre-Mahabharata era. The Bhadrakali of the Mahabharata transformed into Kali of the Devimahatmya. This Bhadrakali or later Kali is terrible. Iconographically (the primal) Kali-Laksmi; Buddhist Tara also belong to this category. While there is a close resemblance among the images of Bhadrakal, Kali, Buddhist Ekajata, Mahacinatara and Brahmanical Tara. In the age of the Devimahamtya, in the early Gupta period, the Brahmanical magico-religious cult of Durga became popular in Brahmanical fold; while the cult of Kali was then yet to blossom. The scenario in the Buddhist fold was similar: Tara appeared eminently, whereas Ekajata was a mere accompanying deity. The godheads of Tara, Ekajata and Mahacinatara are different in Buddhist pantheon though they belong to the same family. The cult of Mahayana Tara might have been flourished within the first four centuries of the Christian era. The Brahmanical second Mahavidya Tara, as the dhyana-mantra describes, is identical with the Buddhist Ekajata. Again, it is learnt from the Taratantra, the Brahmayamala and the Rudrayamala that around six to eight centuries A. D. a group of Brahmanical sadhakas of Parvati became initiated into the cult of Ekajata worshipped as Tara by the Buddhist magico-spiritualistic practitioners in Mahacina, a region between the Mt. Kailas and the Rakshas Tal near Mansarovar in present Chinese Tibet. This new form of sadhana is termed by the Hindus as Cinacara or Mahacinacara. Since her cult was then confined in Mahacina only, she is also known as Mahacinatara. This Brahmanical cult of Tara has witnessed the Hindu-Buddhist harmony in the form of the cults of Siva-Buddha and Vishnu-Buddha. Tara has been the outcome of this early Hindu-Buddha. Tara has been the outcome of this early Hindu-Buddhist harmony, which might have been originated around six century A. D. There is a possible link of the cult of Bhima or Nila of Oddiyana with Ekajata. The cult of Nila being assimilated into the cult of Sarasvati has probably formed the cult of Nila-Sarasvati similar to that of Ekajata in Kashmir. This Brahmanical cult of (Ekajata) Tara gained momentum in twefth-thirteenth century with the fall of Vajrayana and Mantrayana and the rise of the cult of Ten Mahavidyas in the beginning of the Muslim rule in India. From seventeenth century A. D. onwards this cult took a turn with Ramaprasada who transformed this terrible deity into charming, in the form of his daughter; though she is equal to Kali and Parvati-Durga and essentially terrible. This cult was very popular between twelfth and eighteen centuries A. d. until it was gradually transformed into the cult of Kali which was revitalized and rationalized by Ramakrishna Paramahansa and his disciple Swami Vivekananda.


IMother Goddesses and Tara in Ancient India1-33
Worship of Mother Goddess in Ancient India 1-2, Mother Goddess in Indus Valley Civilization 2, Mother Goddess and Saktism 2-3, Sakti in the Vedas 3-15, Goddess in Easly Jainism and Buddhism 15-16, Sakti in the Upanisads 16-17, Sakti in the Sutra Period (pre-Maurya Period) 17-18, Sakti in the Ramayana 18-20, Sakti in the Mahabharata 20-24, Sakti in Early Secular Works 24-25, Sakti in Tamil Sangama Literature 25, Mother Goddess in Ancient Indian Sculpture 26-33.
IITara from Archaeological Sources34-72
Ekajata 34-38, Kurukulla 38, Tara 38-68, Ugratara 70-72
IIITara from Brahmanical Textual Sources73-176
Taratantra: Sanskrit text in roman script and English translation 73-98, selections from Brahmayamala and Rudrayamala: Sanskrit text in roman script and English translation 99-116, English Summaries of Some English Trantric Texts 116-157: Devibhagavatapurana116, Devirahasya116, Kalikhyapurana 117-120, Kalitantra 120, Kamakhyatantra 120, Kaulavali 120, Kubjikatantra 120-121, Kubjikopanisad 121, Mahavidyatantra 121-123, Matrkabhedatantra 124, Mayatantra 124, Mundamalatantra 124-125, Naradapancaratra 126, Nilasarasvatitantra 126-130, Nilatantra 130-134, Nilatantra or Brannilatantra 134-138, Niruttaratantra 138, Pranatosini 138-139, Svatantratantra 139-140, Tantrasara 140-142, Tarabhaktisudharnava 142-147, Tararahasya 148-154, Todalatantra 154, Uddharakosa 155-156, Yoginitantra 156-157, Yonitantra 157, Stotras: abridgement in English 158-159, A Union Catalogue of Manuscripts of Brahmanical Textual Sources 160-176
IVTextual Interpretations177-302
Arjuna 177, Bhairava 177-183, Bhairavi 183-184, Bharadvaja 185, bhava 185, Bhima 185, bhutasuddhi 185-186, Cinacara 187-194, dhyana 194-196, diksa 196-198, Durvasa 198, Ganesa 198-199, guru 199-200, japa 200-202, Kalilasa 202-203, kalpavrksa 203-204, kapala 204, karti or kartika 204, Kaula 204-210, Kundalini 214-219, Mahavidya 220-232, Mahesvara 232, Manasa Lake 232-233, mandala 233-235, mandapa 235, mantra 235-249, Meru 248-250, mulamantra 250, nyasa 250-252, pancamakara 252-253, Parvati 253-56, pitha 256-258, prahara 258, pranayama 258-260, Rudra 268-270, Sadasva 270-272, Sakti 272, saktipuja 273-275, sandhya 275, satkarma 275-276, sava-sadhana 276, setu 276-277, siddhi 277, Siva-Buddha & Visnu-Buddha 277-284, Tara 284-296, Vasistha 296-301, Vyasa 301-302, yogini 302
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