I am exploring the origins of the Tara cult in India, both in Hindu and Buddhist cults. The Hindu origin of Tara seems to be that she is one of the Saivic Goddesses, along with Shakti, Durga, Lakshmi, Kali and related Goddesses.
Ethnoarcheaologist Elora Tribedy has published two papers that explore the origins, history and geo-cultural spread of the Tara cult in Hinduism and Buddhism. Abstracts of her papers are included here:
Keywords: Cultural Landscape, Mental Representation, Symbols, Syncretism
The living religious tradition of Goddess Tara, popularly practiced in Eastern India, owed its antiquity to the early medieval times in the roots of popular Buddhism. This period witnessed conceptualization and procurement phases of Tara’s deification supplementary to the contemporary institution changes in almost all aspects of material life. Till present religious cognition associated with deity Tara is operational extensively, incorporating and obliterating facets, retaining the primary beliefs. Present paper represents an initial research attempt to come beyond the aesthetic parameters of treating structures, sculptures and other religious artefacts, instead looking at them as evidences in making of religious landscape. The papers has tried to look into any and all kind of religious artefacts of goddess Tara as clues in given time and space to understand their symbolic values, specifically, for what purposes these objects were created and retained. Attempts to equate Buddhist aspects with accustomed religious practices of a slightly different tradition of Hinduism can be noticed in the case of ‘Laxmi-Tara’ shrine in Bihar, worship of Tara in form of Durga in Kamakhya temple of Assam and worship of Tara as Kali in communal religious festivals of Bengal which provides important evidences of religious syncretism. An investigation on use of Tara’s name in commercialization of commodities, brand products, vehicles, travel agencies, hotels and palmistry centres in core and peripheral areas of Tara’s religious has provided important information about popularization religious imageries.
Keywords : Ethnography , Intangible Heritage, Rituals, Religious Landscape, People’s religion, Ethnoarchaeology
Tara, the saviour goddess, worshipped by all Buddhists as the mother of all gods, first came to the religious scene in Buddhism during 7th-8th centuries as an attendant of Avalokiteswara. Soon Tara’s position was transferred from attendant of one of the meditative Buddhas, to a Bodhisattva , again to a goddess and finally to the mother of all gods in Tantric Buddhism. In Brahmanical Hinduism, by 12th -13th century, she was recognized as an important female manifestation of power (Shakti). Uniquely , the worship of Tara is a living religious tradition in the landscape of Eastern India, presenting us with a important piece of intangible heritage. The issues of origin and iconographic differences related with goddess Tara, which have been examined in detail by earlier scholars, are not the main themes of the present study. Studying people of past and present involved in worship of Tara since 8th century to 21st century has been the main concern. Present study has tried to understand the nature of peoples’ psychology as well as ideology which sustained worship of this particular deity when other associated Buddhist deities perished from mind of common populace. This cult and her diverse iconography are the mirror of all the socio-political and economic currents that people in past went through. The Buddhist sites which have yielded Tara sculptures in past like Hilsa or Parbati in Bihar, Nalanda, Vikramshila, Ratnagiri monastery sites, Solampur and Jajpur in Orissa and the places presently known for Tara cult like Tarapitha in Bengal, Ugra Tara temple in Assam, Tarapitha and Tara Tarini temples at Orissa, Tara Chandi shrine near Sasaram, Bihar, Ugra Tara temple in Kharsawan, Jharkhand, Ugra Tara temple at Mahisi village in Bihar and places named after Tara, like Taradih in Bihar, Tarapur in Orissa, Tarapitha in Bengal explain the worship of Tara was retained into a specific religious landscape. Tara’s cult is the result of people’s conscious participation in religious culture as the ethnographic data and several other oral traditions related to it report to us.