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 Gallant 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, Destroyer or Tara, Crusher of Adversaries (Skt. Tārā Pramardinī or Tārā Apavādi-pramardanī; Tib. sgrol ma rab ‘joms ma or sgrol ma rgol ba ‘joms ma)
  8. Tara, Destroyer of Mara or Tara, Destroyer of Mara and Bestower of 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, Granter of Wishes (Skt. Tārā Khadira-vaṇī or Tārā Vara-dā; Tib. sgrol ma seng ldeng nags ma or sgrol ma ‘dod ster ma)
  10. Tara, Dispeller of Sorrow (Skt. Tārā Śoka-vinodanī; Tib. sgrol ma mya ngan sel byed ma)
  11. Tara, Magnetizer of Beings, or Tara, Magnetiser of Beings and Dispeller of 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, Light of Auspiciousness or Tārā, Bestower of Prosperity (Skt. Tārā Maṅgalālokā or Tārā Kalyāna-dā; Tib. sgrol ma bkra shis snang ma or sgrol ma bkra shis ster ma)
  13. Tara, Ripener (Skt. Tārā Pari-pācakā; Tib. sgrol ma yongs su smin byed ma)
  14. Tara, Furrowing Brown, or Tara, Enthraller (Skt. Tārā Bhṛkuṭī or Tārā Vaśīkārī; Tib. sgrol ma khro gnyer can ma or sgrol ma ‘gugs ma)
  15. Tara, Great Peace (Skt. Tārā Mahā-śānti; Tib. sgrol ma zhi ba chen mo)
  16. Tara, Destroyer of Attachment (Skt. Tārā Rāga-niṣūdanī; Tib. sgrol ma chags ‘joms ma)
  17. Tara, Accomplisher of Bliss (Skt. Tārā Sukha-sādhanī; Tib. sgrol ma bde ba sgrub ma)
  18. Tara, the Victorious (Skt. Tārā Vijayā or Tārā Sita-vijayā; Tib. sgrol ma rnam par rgyal ma)
  19. Tara, Burner of Suffering (Skt. Tārā Duḥkha-dahanī; Tib. sgrol ma sdug bsngal sel byed ma or sgrol ma sdug bsngal bsregs ma)
  20. Tara, Source of Attainments (Skt. Tārā Siddhi-saṃbhavā; Tib. sgrol ma nngos grub ‘byung gnas ma)
  21. Tara, the Perfecter (Skt. Tārā Pari-pūraṇī; Tib. sgrol ma yongs su rdzogs byed ma)

2. Nyingma terma tradition of Jigme Lingpa[2]

  1. Nyurma Pamo (myur ma dpa' mo; Skt. Turavīrā) for development of bodhichitta
  2. Yangchenma (dbyangs can ma; Skt. Sarasvatī) for knowledge and wisdom
  3. Sonam Chokter (bsod nams mchog gter; Skt. Puṇyottama-dā) for the force of merit
  4. Tsuktor Namgyal (gtsug gtor rnam rgyal; Skt. Uṣṇīṣa-vijayā) for long life
  5. Rikchema (rig byed ma; Skt. Kurukullā) for magnetising people and wealth
  6. Jikché Chenmo ('jigs byed chen mo; Skt. Mahābairavā) for destroying the power of harmful influences
  7. Shyenkyi Mitupma (gzhan gyis mi thub ma) for protection from hailstorms and lightning
  8. Shyen Migyalwa (gzhan mi rgyal ba) for repelling blame
  9. Sengdeng Nakkyi Drolma (seng ldeng nags kyi sgrol ma; Skt. Khadiravaṇī Tārā) for protection from the eight great fears. (She is the main Tara, green in colour)
  10. Jikten Sumgyal ('jig rten gsum rgyal; Skt. Trailokavijayā) to have power over the world
  11. Nor Terma (nor ster ma; Skt. Vasudā) for dispelling poverty and granting good fortune
  12. Tashi Dönché (bkra shis don byed; Skt. Maṅgalārthā) for the auspiciousness of children, fame, rain and so on
  13. Drapung Jomma (dgra dpung 'joms ma; Skt. Ripu-cakra-vināśinī) for victory in war
  14. Tronyer Chendze (khro gnyer can mdzad; Skt. Bhṛkuṭī) for protection from spirits
  15. Rabtu Shyiwa (rab tu zhi ma; Skt. Praśāntī) for purifying harmful actions
  16. Barwé Öchen ('bar ba'i 'od can; Skt. Kiraṇojjvalā) for dispelling spells and negative effects
  17. Pakmé Nönam (dpag med gnon ma) for protection from robbers, thieves, animals and hunters
  18. Mabja Chenmo (rma bya chen mo; Skt. Mahāmāyūrī) to protect from and neutralize poison
  19. Mipam Gyalmo (mi pham rgyal mo; Skt. Ajitarājñī) for protection from quarrels and bad dreams
  20. Ritröma (ri khrod ma; Skt. Śabarī) for protection from epidemics
  21. Özer Chenma ('od zer can ma; Skt. Mārīcī) for restoring the spirits and energies of sick people

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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