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Buddhist Deity: Vajra Tara

By Devik Balami at
Buddhist Deity Vajra Tara

Buddhist Deity, Vajra Tara is also popularly known as Mahacinatara and is one of the 21 Taras present in the Buddhist scriptures. The other names for Bodhisattva Vajra Tara are Blue Tara, Vajra Tara, Ugra Tara, and Ekajati or Ekajata. Her ascribed powers as mentioned in various Buddhist scriptures are removing the fear of enemies, spreading joy, and removing personal hindrances on the path of enlightenment. It is believed that Bodhisattva Vajra Tara along with Bodhisattva Palden Lhamo is one of the most powerful and fierce goddesses of Vajrayana Buddhism.

Bodhisattva Vajra Tara is taken as the protector of secret mantras of Vajrayana teachings, especially the Inner Tantras and termas. Also according to Namkhai Norbu, Vajra Tara is the principal guardian of the Dzogchen teachings.

Origin of Bodhisattva Vajra Tara

It has been recorded that Vajra Tara is seen in both Buddhist and Hindu philosophy as a pantheon. Most of the people asserted that she originated in the Buddhist pantheon but others stress that this may not be necessary. It is also believed that Bodhisattva Vajra Tara originated in Tibet, and was introduced to Nalanda, India from Tibet in the 7th century by the Nagarjuna.

Iconography of Bodhisattva Vajra Tara

In Buddhist arts, Buddhist deity Vajra Tara is portrayed as having a blue skin tone with a high red chignon. She has one head three breast, two hands, and a third eye. The iconography of Vajra Tara can be varied also. She may be depicted with more body parts- up to twelve heads and twenty-four arms along with different tantric attributes e.g. Sword, phurba, blue lotus axe, Vajra.

In her most common form, she holds an axe, cleaver or khatvanga (tantric staff) and a skull cup in her hands. In another form, her hair is arranged in the same single bun with a turquoise forehead curl. This feature signifies blazing allegiance to non-dualism. Bodhisattva Vajra Tara's single eye gazes into unceasing space, a single fang pierces through obstacles, a single breast. She is portrayed with a garment of white clouds and tiger skin around her waist only. The garment doesn't cover the upper parts of her body. The tiger skin that Bodhisattva Vajra Tara uses symbolizes fearless enlightenment and is taken as Siddha's garb. The statue and the painting of Vajra Tara are ornamented with snakes and a garland of human heads. The body is portrayed in dark in color, either brown or deep blue. In some arts, she stands on a single leg while in some she stands on a flaming mandala of triangular shape. Commonly, she steps upon corpses with her right foot symbolizing her ego. Her vajra laugh bares a split tongue or a forked tongue and a single tooth, she is adorned with a skull necklace and a tiger and a human skin. She is surrounded by a fearsome retinue of small demonesses. She emanates a retinue of one hundred ferocious iron she-wolves from her left hand. Vajra Tara's extrinsic behavior expresses determination while flames that surround Vajra Tara represents wisdom.

It is believed that she is committed to being an arrow of awareness to reawaken and refresh the discouraged or lazy practitioners. As for defiant or disrespectful practitioners, she is wrathful and threatening, committed to killing their egos and leading them to dharmakaya, or the ultimate realization itself. Therefore to symbolize this aspect of Vajra Tara, she holds the eviscerated, dripping red heart of those who betrayed their Vajrayana vows in her right hand.

When Vajra Tara is represented with yogis in hagiographies, she is projected as wrathful. She speaks in sharp piercing shrieks. Her eye boiling as she gnashes her fang. In most of her representations, she appears twice the human size along with brandishing weapons and served by witches drenched in blood.