Buddhist iconography has been an important source of study for scholars since long. Iconography of Buddhist sculptures comprising of Buddha images, Bodhisattvas, mandalas and Goddess is mentioned in Tantric Buddhism. One such important image is that of the Goddess Tara, who is considered as the supreme Goddess of the Vajrayana Pantheon. Tara is supposed to hold the second position next to Buddha which is similar to that of Durga of the Hindu pantheon. She is a tantric meditation deity whose practice is used by practitioners of Tibetan branch of Vajrayana Buddhism to develop certain inner qualities.
According to A. Ghetty, Tara was given two distinct forms: the ‘white’ believed to be incarnated as the Chinese princess Wen-ch’eng, daughter of a Chinese prince and the ‘green’ incarnated as the Nepalese prince Brisbun, daughter of the Newer King Amsu Varman. B. Bhattacharyya has attempted to classify the various textual descriptions of Tara according to their color like under Green Tara there are: 1) Khandiravani Tara, 2) Vasya Tara, 3) Arya Tara, 4) Mahattari Tara, 5) Varada Tara, 6) Durgottarini Tara, 7) Dhanada Tara, 8) Janguli and 9) Parnasavari. The names under white Tara are; 1) Astamahabhaya- Tara, 2) Mrtyuvancana-Tara, 3) Caturbhuja- Tara, 4) Sadbhuja- Tara, 5) Visvamata, 6) Kurukulla and 7) Janguli. Under yellow Tara the names are; 1) Vajra- Tara, 2) Janguli, 3) Parnasavari and 4) Bhrkuti. The forms under blue Tara are; 1) Ekajata and 2) Mahacina-Tara under the red Tara are; 1) Kurukulla. But the classification of these forms sometimes changes and is not very applicable to identify a sculpture made out of stone.
The earliest, solidly identifiable image of Tara is found today at Cave 6 in the Ellora rock-cut complex in Maharashtra which dates back to the 7th century CE. Tara became a popular deity of the Vajrayana Buddhism with the rise of Tantric Buddhism in the 8th century Pala India and with the movement of Indian Buddhism into Tibet.
Amongst the Tara goddesses Vajra-Tara has been popular in Tantric Buddhism as her popularity stemmed in the fact that she had the supreme power to bless one with success and various protective rites. Therefore, her worshippers pray for worldly enjoyments, material prosperity, immunity from troubles and danger and success in all kinds of undertakings. According to the sadhamala there are five sadhanas devoted to the four headed and eight armed form of Vajra-Tara of yellow complexion. The whole mandala of the Goddess usually consists of ten deities surrounding the Goddess Vajra-Tara.
Sadhana no 93 mentions that; a meditator should conceive Vajra-Tara in the center of the circle, who is eight-armed and four-faced and decked in all ornaments. Golden in complexion she is graceful and radiant with the auspicious marks of a virgin. She bears on her crown the figure of five Buddhas, and she is born of the consecration-water of Vajra and Surya. She is seated on a visvapadma, she radiates light and holds in her right hands a vajra (thunderbolt), a pasa (noose), a sankha (conch) and a sara (arrow) and in her left a vajrankusa (elephant goad marked with a thunderbolt), an utpala (night lotus) and a dhanus (bow), the fourth hand being in the tarjani- mudra. Conceieving her in the vajraparyankasana (the worshipper) may conquer the three worlds. Thus, female deities have been an integral part of tantric Buddhism and they are given important positions and considered very powerful possessing various powers.
** The Object is from the collection of National Museum, New Delhi, India