Twenty-one Taras

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The 21 Taras painted by Salga according to the Nyingma terma tradition

The Twenty-one Taras (Tib. སྒྲོལ་མ་ཉེར་གཅིག་, drolma nyerchik, Wyl. sgrol ma nyer gcig) find their origin in the famous Praises to the Twenty-One Taras.

Iconographic Traditions

The various authors of the commentarial tradition often placed a special emphasis on the iconography of each of the 21 forms of Tara, describing her colour, seat, posture, number of faces and arms, implements and hand gesture. The iconographical descriptions in the commentaries may not always correspond to the description of the Taras in the Praises to the 21 Taras. There are three main iconographic traditions that formed in Tibet:[1]

  1. Suryagupta school, depicting the 21 Taras as differing in all details such as posture, number of heads and hands, colour, implements and hand gestures.
  2. Nagarjuna and Atisha’s tradition, in which the 21 Taras are rarely distinguished except by colour, peaceful or wrathful expression, and the colour of the vessel that each holds in the left hand.
  3. Nyingma terma tradition of Jigme Lingpa and Chokgyur Dechen Lingpa depicting them as in Nagarjuna and Atisha’s tradition but of different colours and holding individual emblems on top of the lotus in the left hand, rather than vessels. Jikme Lingpa’s and Chokgyur Dechen Lingpa’s tradition differ only slightly from each other.

Tradition of Names

While the praise itself does not name or identify specific forms of Tara, various commentators have identified each of the 21 verses with one particular form of Tara. Thus, many of the prominent female Buddhist deities found their place amongst the 21 Taras, such as Sarasvati, Ushnishavijaya, Vajravidarana, Kurukulla and Marichi. However, the traditions do not agree, but rather differ on the identification of which verse depicts which form of Tara. The two main 'naming'-traditions are:

  1. Suryagupta tradition
  2. Nyingma terma tradition

1. Suryagupta Tradition

The names of the Taras given in the two sadhanas (D 1685 & 1686) and three commentaries (D 1687-1689) attributed to Suryagupta differ. Thus, one will find varying lists of names with respect to 'the Suryagupta tradition'. Furthermore, since Suryagupta's works are only preserved in Tibetan, the Sanskrit names of the Taras are reconstructed from the Tibetan. With this in mind, one common list including some variations would be:

  1. Tara, Swift and Courageous or Tara, Heroic (Skt. Tārā Tura-vīrā or Tārā Pravīrā; Tib. sgrol ma myur ma dpa’ mo or sgrol ma rab tu dpa’ mo)
  2. Tara, White as the Autumn Moon or Tara, Brilliant Like the Moon (Skt. Tārā Śuklakānti or Tārā Candra-kānti; Tib. sgrol ma ‘od dkar can or sgrol ma zla mdangs)
  3. Tara, Golden Coloured (Skt. Tārā Kanaka-varṇī; Tib. sgrol ma gser mdog can)
  4. Tara, Crown Jewel of the Tathāgatas or Tārā, Victorious Crown Jewel (Skt. Tārā Tathāgatoṣṇīṣā or Tārā Uṣṇīṣa-vijayā; Tib. sgrol ma de bzhin gshegs pa gtsug tor can or sgrol ma gtsug tor rnam rgyal ma)
  5. Tara, Resounding with Hung (Skt. Tārā Hūṃ-kāra-nādinī or Tārā Hūṃ-svara-nādinī; Tib. sgrol ma hUM sgra sgrogs ma)
  6. Tara, Victor Over the Three Worlds (Skt. Tārā Trailokavijayā; Tib. sgrol ma ‘jig rten gsum rgyal ma or sgrol ma khams gsum rnam rgyal ma)
  7. Tara the Destructor or Tara, who crushes adversaries (Skt. Tārā Pramardinī or Tārā Apavādi-pramardanī; Tib. sgrol ma rab ‘joms ma or sgrol ma rgol ba ‘joms ma)
  8. Tara who destroys mara or Tara who destroys mara and bestows excellence (Skt. Tārā Māra-mardaneśvarī or Tārā Māra-sūdanī-vaśitottama-dā; Tib. sgrol ma bdud ‘joms dbang phyug ma or sgrol ma bdud ‘joms dbang mchog ster ma)
  9. Tara of the Khadira Forest or Tara who grants all wishes (Skt. Tārā Khadira-vaṇī or Tārā Vara-dā; Tib. sgrol ma seng ldeng nags ma or sgrol ma ‘dod ster ma)
  10. Tara who dispells sorrow (Skt. Tārā Śoka-vinodanī; Tib. sgrol ma mya ngan sel byed ma)
  11. Tara who magnetises all beings, or Tara who magnetises all beings and dispels their misfortune (Skt. Tārā Jagad-vaśī or Tārā Jagad-vaśī-riṣṭa-nirvahaṇī; Tib. sgrol ma ‘jig rten dbang sdud ma or sgrol ma ‘gro ba kun ‘gugs phongs pa sel ma)
  12. Tara who is the light of auspiciousness or Tara who bestows prosperity (Skt. Tārā Maṅgalālokā or Tārā Kalyāna-dā; Tib. sgrol ma bkra shis snang ma or sgrol ma bkra shis ster ma)
  13. Tara who ripens all (Skt. Tārā Pari-pācakā; Tib. sgrol ma yongs su smin byed ma)
  14. Tara, Furrowing Brown, or Tara who enthrals all (Skt. Tārā Bhṛkuṭī or Tārā Vaśīkārī; Tib. sgrol ma khro gnyer can ma or sgrol ma ‘gugs ma)
  15. Tara who is great peace (Skt. Tārā Mahā-śānti; Tib. sgrol ma zhi ba chen mo)
  16. Tara who destroys attachment (Skt. Tārā Rāga-niṣūdanī; Tib. sgrol ma chags ‘joms ma)
  17. Tara who accomplishes bliss (Skt. Tārā Sukha-sādhanī; Tib. sgrol ma bde ba sgrub ma)
  18. Tara, white and victorious (Skt. Tārā Vijayā or Tārā Sita-vijayā; Tib. sgrol ma rnam par rgyal ma)
  19. Tara who burns suffering (Skt. Tārā Duḥkha-dahanī; Tib. sgrol ma sdug bsngal sel byed ma or sgrol ma sdug bsngal bsregs ma)
  20. Tara who is the source of attainments (Skt. Tārā Siddhi-saṃbhavā; Tib. sgrol ma nngos grub ‘byung gnas ma)
  21. Tara who perfects all (Skt. Tārā Pari-pūraṇī; Tib. sgrol ma yongs su rdzogs byed ma)

2. Nyingma terma tradition of Jigme Lingpa[2]

  1. Tara who swift and courageous (sgrol ma myur ma dpa' mo; Drolma Nyurma Pamo; Skt. Tārā Turavīrā) for development of bodhichitta
  2. Tara who is melodious (sgrol ma dbyangs can ma; Drolma Yangchenma; Skt. Tārā Sarasvatī) for knowledge and wisdom (i.e. Sarasvati)
  3. Tara who grants supreme merit (sgrol ma bsod nams mchog gter; Drolma Sonam Chokter; Skt. Tārā Puṇyottama-dā) for the force of merit
  4. Tara who is completely victorious (sgrol ma gtsug gtor rnam rgyal; Drolma Tsuktor Namgyal; Skt. Tārā Uṣṇīṣa-vijayā) for long life (i.e. Ushnishavijaya)
  5. Tara Kurukulla (sgrol ma rig byed ma; Drolma Rikchema; Skt. Kurukullā) for magnetising people and wealth
  6. Tara who causes terror (sgrol ma 'jigs byed chen mo; Drolma Jikché Chenmo; Skt. Tārā Mahābairavā) for destroying the power of harmful influences (i.e. Vajravidarana)
  7. Tara who is invincible (sgrol ma gzhan gyis mi thub ma; Drolma Shyenkyi Mitupma; Skt. Tārā Aparadhṛṣyā) for protection from hailstorms and lightning
  8. Tara, triumphant over others (sgrol ma gzhan mi rgyal ba; Drolma Shyen Migyalwa; Skt. Tārā Aparajitā) for repelling blame
  9. Tara of the Khadira Forest (sgrol ma seng ldeng nags; Drolma Sengdeng Nakkyi; Skt. Tārā Khadira-vaṇī) for protection from the eight great fears. (She is the main Tara, green in colour)
  10. Tara who conquers the three worlds (sgrol ma 'jig rten gsum rgyal; Drolma Jikten Sumgyal; Skt. Tārā Trailokavijayā) to have power over the world
  11. Tara who bestows wealth (nor ster ma; Drolma Nor Terma; Skt. Tārā Vasudā) for dispelling poverty and granting good fortune
  12. Tara who brings auspiciousness (bkra shis don byed; Drolma Tashi Dönché; Skt. Tārā Maṅgalārthā) for the auspiciousness of children, fame, rain and so on
  13. Tara who destroys the power of enemies (sgrol ma dgra dpung 'joms ma; Drolma Drapung Jomma; Skt. Tārā Ripu-cakra-vināśinī) for victory in war
  14. Tara Furrowing Brown (sgrol ma khro gnyer can mdzad; Drolma Tronyer Chendze; Skt. Tārā Bhṛkuṭī) for protection from spirits
  15. Tara who is perfect peace (sgrol ma rab tu zhi ma; Drolma Rabtu Shyiwa; Skt. Tārā Praśāntī) for purifying harmful actions
  16. Tara who is ablaze with light (sgrol ma 'bar ba'i 'od can; Drolma Barwé Öchen; Skt. Tārā Kiraṇojjvalā) for dispelling spells and negative effects
  17. Tara of limitless subjugation (sgrol ma dpag med gnon ma; Drolma Pakmé Nönam; Skt. Tārā Aprameyākramaṇī) for protection from robbers, thieves, animals and hunters
  18. Tara, majestic as the Great Peahen (sgrol ma rma bya chen mo; Drolma Mabja Chenmo; Skt. Tārā Mahāmāyūrī) to protect from and neutralize poison
  19. Tara who is unconquerable and victorious (sgrol ma mi pham rgyal mo; Drolma Mipam Gyalmo; Skt. Tārā Ajitarājñī) for protection from quarrels and bad dreams (i.e. Sitatapatra)
  20. Tara, Dweller in the mountains (sgrol ma ri khrod ma; Drolma Ritröma; Skt. Tārā Śabarī) for protection from epidemics
  21. Tara, ‘Rays of Light’ (sgrol ma od zer can ma; Drolma Özer Chenma; Skt. Tārā Mārīcī) for restoring the spirits and energies of sick people (i.e. Marichi)

Notes

  1. Stephan Beyer, The Cult of Tara: Magic and Ritual in Tibet, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978): 469-470. And: Martin Willson, In Praise of Tara: Songs to the Saviouress, (Somerville: Wisdom Publications, 1996): 118-119.
  2. This list is from yum-ka mkha'-'gro'i nang-sgrub bde-chen snying-po'i gter-bum, based on a translation by Tulku Thondup.

Teachings Given to the Rigpa Sangha

Further Reading

  • Adeu Rinpoche, Jamgon Kongtrul, and Chokgyur Lingpa. Skillful Grace: Tara Practice for Our Times. Translated and edited by Erik Pema Kunsang and Marcia Binder Schmidt. Hong Kong: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 2007.
  • Beyer, Stephan. The Cult of Tara: Magic and Ritual in Tibet. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978.
  • Chokgyur Lingpa, Adeu Rinpoche, Orgyen Topgyal Rinpoche, and Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. The Tara Compendium: Feminine Principles Discovered. Translated and edited by Erik Pema Kunsang and Marcia Binder Schmidt. Hong Kong: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 2015.
  • Khenchen Palden Sherab. The Smile of Sun and Moon. Translated by Anna Orlova. Boca Raton: Sky Dancer Press, 2004.
  • Khenchen Palden Sherab and Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal. Tara’s Enlightened Activity: An Oral Commentary on the Twenty-One Praises to Tara. Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2007.
  • Wayman, Alex. Buddhist Insight. Edited by George Elder. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Pub, 2002.
  • Willson, Martin. In Praise of Tara: Songs to the Saviouress. Somerville: Wisdom Publications, 1996.

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