Who is Goddess Tara

In the centre [of the island of gems] is the wish fulfilling tree. Under this, a sadhaka should meditate on himself as being one with Tarini, as bright as the rising sun, the utmost sphere of light, in a place surrounded by beautiful maidens with fans and bells, wafted by a gentle breeze bearing the odour of scent and incense – Todala Tantra, IV

“I sing a mighty praise, as she is the Supremest, the supreme of all Nadis.I shall praise Saraswati with hymns and chants, and Rodasi, O Vasishtha.”- Rig Veda Samhita, VII.96.1

“Indeed, this celestial Ghora (Terible) Saraswati with her path of Gold, the destroyer of the Obstruction (Vritra, the granthis), claims our praise!” - Rig Veda Samhita, VI.68.7

Tara is a wrathful form of the Goddess Saraswati. She represents Saraswati as the Supreme Nadi that takes us beyond into the Soma Chakra up Sushumna, and thus she is called the Tara (Saviouress). She is said to have been consort with both Brihaspati (Lord of Speech, dwelling in the Muladhara as Kundalini) and the Moon (Soma, the Sahasrarapadma Chakra that Kundalini unites with when fully awakened).Their son, the first mortal, was called Budha (‘Intellect’), and was an avatar of Vishnu and the Lord of Planet Mercury.

The greatest modern Seer of Tara was the great Tantric Vamaksepa (known also as Vama, Vamadeva, Bamakhepa etc.). A Vamamargi (Left-hand Tantric), he was a Para-bhakta like Chaitanya and had many mystic powers. Amongst his devotees and disciples who received his grace and teachings, was the Author and Mystic of Bengal and great Composer on Hindu Literature – Jadunath Sinha.

One can but beleive that Tara through the grace of Vamaksepa, empowered Jadunath to write on Hindu Philosophy for the benefit of the world.

Vamaksepa often saw the Goddess Tara in the flames of Agni (Fire). He was one of few Rishis that beheld this sacred forms of the Goddess in Fire, as did the Rishis of Vedic times, as in Durgasukta, Mundakopanishad and Agni-Durga mantra by Kashyapa in the Rig Veda.
Verily, Vamaksepa was a Vedic Rishi. Tara is consort of Brihaspati the Guru of the Gods, who in Rig Veda is worshipped in Fire as Lord of Speech and Mantra – as Brahmanaspati, Narashamsa, the Purohit (Priest) form of Agni etc.

Agni in the same hymn takes the form of the Son of Power or Shavasi (or Shakti, verse 10) and other times as a youth. This relates to the later ideas of Tara as the Mother of her husband Akshobhya or Brihaspati – as the image at Tarapith of Akshobhya sucking on her breast, shows. Mandala V, also portrays such an imagery with Agni the son.

This hymn by Bharadvaja obviously shows Agni in Brihaspati form, as it commences with Agni the Inventor of the mantra, and also the Sage of mankind (verse 8).

The son of Brihaspati and Tara, is a great Rig Vedic Rishi of the Sixth Mandala, Bharadvaja. One hymn of his (VI.1.5) extols Agni as the Father and Mother in the form of the Saviour and Deliverer of Mortals forever, the Taraka-shakti, which is the basis of Tara and Akshobhya-Tar or Brihaspati in later times. [This is also basis of Tara and Aksbhobhya Boddhisattvas as helpers of mortals in Buddhist mythology, from this famed Vedic verse!]. Moreover, the wrathful form of Saraswati (VI.68), esp. verse 7, relates to Tara as wrathful and Vritraghni (Vritra-slaying) Saraswati – thus her form as Tara or Ugra-Saraswati.

It calls her Ghora (wrathful or terrible). Also the hymn to Bharadvaja’s father Brihaspati is also wrathful in tone (VI.73) – all of these hymns which are the basis of Tara, are from Bharadvaja’s Sixth Mandala!

Bharadvaja also states that through love and grace of Agni (Brihaspati or Tara, again who is both Mother – Tara and Father, Brihaspati in VI.1.5), one gains much wealth and by serving him, one gains many boons. This is basis of Tara-bhakti.

Brihaspati himself is the son of Rishi Angirasa (RV.VI.73.1). Rig Veda states that the first Angirasa Rishi was actually Agni himself in the form of the ‘auspicious friend’ (shiva sakha) to the Gods – thus a form of Lord Shiva himself (RV.I.31.1). This is the origin of Brihaspati as the avatar of Lord Shiva – and the Akshobhya or Nilakantha form itself is noted in the Vedas:

” We offer salutations to the blue-necked one (Nilagriva) , he who has a thousand eyes and is the granter of desires. We offer salutations to those who are his followers!” – Krishna Yajur Veda Samhita, IV.5.1 (Sri Rudram.I.9)

The same text also calls Shiva as Tara, also.

Tara of the cremation ground (samashana-Tara) is connected to Rudra-Agni forms as the great Deliverer in forms that haunt the cremation grounds. As such, Shiva as Medhapati (Lord of offerings) and Gathapati (ie. Brihaspati) as Rudra the wrathful are noted in Rig Veda(I.43.4-5). This is connected with Rudra as the Taraka-devata through Mahamrityunjaya (Great death mantra) of Vasishtha in Rig Veda (VII.59.12) – taking us beyond death. Interestingly – Vasishtha later becomes one of Tara’s main Seers in Tantra!

Thus, we can see Vamaksepa has a strong Vedic connection when he envisions her in Fire. As her son, he is the great avatar of Shiva, Akshobhya himself or the great Rishi Bharadvaja, the son of Tara and Brihaspati.

Amongst the Kirata peoples of ancient China (Mahachina), that is, remote parts of Nepal and Tibet-Ladhak regions into NE India as Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, her Shaman-practices arose from the fallen aspects of Vedic and became part of their Buddhism, when the likes of Padmasambava taught Tara-sadhana into these regions. Hence why it survived.

Yet, the home of Tara-worship and Mahachinachara is said to be Manasa-puja (mental worship). In the Puranas she guards the Manasa-sarovar (Lake of the Mind), which is Geographically located in Mahachina or Tibet, land of Buddhistic practices. Thus, Rishi Vasishtha who learnt this, actually travelled to the Lake of the Mind, and the Mahachina idea, was only a geographical metaphor. The Saraswati also originates from the Himalayas*.

Kiratas are also Hunters. They are symbolically the Marut-forms of or followers of Tara as the hunters and slayers of demons, and thus Mahachina is her abode, as also it is Shiva’s abode (on Mt. Meru or Kailasha).

Saraswati is also Goddess of the Mind, as the Goddess of Intellect, as her Gayatri mantra shows. Infact, Gayatri itself is also the basis of Tara form of Saraswati. Gayatri means literally, “The song (gaya) that saves (tri)”. It connects tara to Saraswati as both Mantra or Song and also the Saviouress. As noted above, we have already Vedic images of Saraswati the wrathful demon-slaying warrioress in the hymns of Bharadvaja.

Tara is quite well known to the West through Her Tibetan manifestations, but some are unaware of the important position She occupies in the Hindu tantrik pantheon. She is the second of the ten Mahavidyas.

The major sources of tara can be found in important Kaula tantra called Brihad Nila Tantra (see below) and the Tararahasya (Secrets of Tara) of Brahmananda Giri. The first deals with the exposition of Nila Sarasvati — the Sapphire Blue Sarasvati. Sarasvati is the Brahma-Shakti, or spouse of the Supreme Deity in his Creative aspect. The other aspects are Vishnu and Mahesh — all three symbolised in the three heads of Lord Dattatreya, patron guru of the Natha tradition.
The similarities in appearance between Kali and Tara are striking and unmistakable. They both stand upon a supine male figure often recognizable as Shiva but which may also be an anonymous corpse.

Both wear minimal clothing or are naked. Both wear a necklace of freshly severed heads and a girdle of human hands. Both have a lolling tongue, red with the blood of their victims. Their appearances are so strikingly similar that it is easy to mistake one for the other.

The oral tradition gives an intriguing story behind the Goddess Tara. The legend begins with the churning of the ocean. Shiva has drunk the poison that was created from the churning of the ocean, thus saving the world from destruction, but has fallen unconscious under its powerful effect. Tara appears and takes Shiva on her lap. She suckles him, the milk from her breasts counteracting the poison, and he recovers. This myth is reminiscent of the one in which Shiva stops the rampaging Kali by becoming an infant. Seeing the child, Kali’s maternal instinct comes to the fore, and she becomes quiet and nurses the infant Shiva. In both cases, Shiva assumes the position of an infant vis-à-vis the goddess. In other words the Goddess is Mother even to the Great Lord himself.

The distinguishing feature in Tara’s iconography is the scissors she holds in one of her four hands. The scissors relate to her ability to cut off all attachments.

Literally the word ‘tara’ means a star. Thus Tara is said to be the star of our aspiration, the muse who guides us along the creative path. These qualities are but a manifestation of her compassion. The Buddhist tradition stresses these qualities of this Goddess, and she is worshipped in Tibet as an important embodiment of compassion.

The various other forms are given in Brihad Nila Tantra and Devirahasya, under the names Nilasarasvati, Aniruddha Sarasvati, Ugra Tara, Tarini. Nilasarasvati gives as the fruit of worshipping Her poesy and eloquence. This, aside from clearly relating Nilasarasvati to White Sarasvati, also points to this Goddess being the Shakti of the Letters of the Alphabet, the Matrika Shakti.

She has an important role in Tantrik cosmology because mantra, words, music are considered to be the very source of the cosmos. As Matrika Shakti She deludes the entire human race with Her Maya of letters, and words. This has been expressed in a Tantrik form, but, practically speaking, it is sufficient to say that much hypnosis (Maya) comes about via the medium of words. Millions of people have lost their lives through this power.

Thus Her power and place in the Tantrik pantheon is quite justified, and Her mantra is described as a Siddha-Vidya, the cause of Maya and Englamouring.

Tara is not only an important Hindu Goddess, she is also the most important of the Buddhist Goddesses. The Bodhisattva Tara is the consort of the great Buddha Avalokiteshvara, the Lord who looks down with compassion on all living beings.

The term Tara means the deliverer or savior, from the Sanskrit root tri, meaning “to take across,” as to take across a river, the ocean, a mountain, or any difficult situation. The Goddess Tara is called upon in emergencies or at crossroads where we require guidance as to which way to turn. Tara is the saving knowledge. She is the Saviouress. The idea of the Goddess as saving wisdom is as old as the Vedas, and is a common idea in many spiritual traditions.

Tara is the feminine form of Om or Om personified as a Goddess. Tara is the unmanifest sound that exists in the ether of consciousness, through which we can go beyond the entire manifestation. Tara is Om that has the appearance of the ether and which pervades the ether as its underlying vibratory support, but also transcends it. Om is the unmanifest field behind creation, which is the destroyer as well as the creator of the universe.

Tara is the purifying force of the vital breaths. Sound that manifests in the ether is the same as the Prana (life-force) that manifests in the ether. Breath is the primal sound of life, and the sound of the breath is the original, spontaneous and unuttered mantra (So’ ham). Both mind and Prana, as word and vibration, have their root in sound. Hence the use of sound or mantra both purifies and energizes the mind.

Tara is the radiance of knowledge that arises from the differentiation of meanings through sound. Different sounds serve as vehicles whereby different ideas or meanings flash forth. Om is the underlying light that illumines these different sounds and allows meaning to flow through them. All meanings exist to reintegrate us into the ocean of meaning that is pure consciousness itself.

Tara, like Kali, is deep blue in color. She has matted hair, wears a garland of human heads, and has eight serpents for her ornaments. She is dancing on a corpse, has four arms and carries in her four hands a sword or head chopper, a scissors, a severed head and a lotus.

When we analysize some vedic hymns we can even understand an another interpretation that Tara Mahavidya is spouse of Brihaspati also known as Akshobhya Shiva. The second verse here is by her son – Bharadvaja Rishi. It calls upon the Divine Fire (also known as Narashamsa or Brahmanaspati in his Brihaspati aspect), as Mother and Father in the form of the Saviour.

The first by Rishi Kashyapa appears in the start of the famed Durgasukta. It asks that the Divine Fire or the Self, take us beyong all miseries, as a ship accross the ocean. This is the power of Tara, and thus these mantras can be used in her invocation.

Sanskrit:

jaatavedase sunavaama somam araateeyato ni dahaati vedaa sah nah parshat ati durgaani vishvaa saaveva sindhum durhitaatyagnih

Translation:

We offer the celestial beverage to the knower of all births – may he consume the wisdom of our enemies. May he takes us through all troubles and difficulties, like a ship accross the ocean.RV.I.99.1

Sanskrit:

Tvam trata tarane chetyo bhuh pita mata sadamin manushanam

Translation:

May you be our Saviour, Protector, Father and Mother of mortals forever. RV.VI.1.5

Tara Kavacha:

Sanskrit:

brhaspatirnah pari paatu pashchaadutottarasmaadadharaadaghaayoh

Translation:

Brihaspati protect us from the rear, and from above and below from harm!- RV.I.42.11

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