Photo by Jaroslav Poncar.

Green Tārā as Saviouress from the Eight Dangers

by Eva Allinger

Forms of Tārā are frequently represented in the temples of Alchi. The Three-Storeyed Temple (Sumtsek) alone contains a number of quite different manifestations of the goddess, the most famous one being the group of five Tārās on the left side wall of Avalokiteśvara's niche.

Tārā Rescuing from the Eight Dangers (Aṣṭamahābhaya Tārā)  takes the prominent position on the gallery immediately above the right-hand niche of Bodhisattva Mañjuśrī (◊ Tārā Rescuing). The peculiar form in which the goddess is depicted relates to two texts authored by the eight-century Kashmiri scholar Sarvajñamitra, namely the Aṣṭabhayatrānatārā-sādhana (Q no. 4503, vol. 81, 88.2.6 - 89.2.7) and the Āryatārāsragdharā-stotra (Q no. 2563, vol. 59, 67.1.6 - 68.5.7).

In the meditational liturgy (sādhana) Sarvajñamitra describes the central Tārā as follows: she is green, has one face and eight arms. Her right hands bear a rosary (mālā), display the gestures of giving (varadamudrā) and fearlessness (abhayamudrā) and hold a jewel. The left hands hold a blue lily (utpala) and a flask (kalaśa), again show the gesture of fearlessness (abhayamudrā) and hold a book. What is peculiar to this textual source is, that the Tārās which save humans from the eight kinds of danger are described of varying appearance.

Sarvajñamitra's hymn of praise (stotra) describes the dangers in three phases. First the  nature of the danger is declared, then the invocation of Tārā by the victim and finally the aversion of the peril. These three phases are also visible in the depiction of the dangers around the mandorla of the central image.

Combining elements of both texts by the same author, the Alchi artist(s) arrived at a uniquely comprehensive solution in depicting their subject. The Alchi representation therefore is not simply a reproduction based on a textual source, but rather reflects the contemporary teaching associated with this peculiar form of Tārā that goes back to the Kashmiri author. As such, the depictions confirms the close association of Alchi and contemporary Kashmir.

  • Eva Allinger, The Green Tara as Saviouress from the Eight Dangers in the Sumtsek at Alchi, in Orientations, Vol.30/1, Jan.1999: 40-44.