Goddess Tara Time to Come Home ?


Tara is  the Goddess of compassion, the powerful feminine counterpart of the bodhisattva  ( the next Buddha to be) Avalokiteshvara.  She occupies a central display position at the British Museum now. The image a stunning full statue is gilded and is watched over by another gilded bronze — a slightly smaller statue of a 16th century Avalokiteshvara from Nepal.  









Tara is supposed to be one of the finest examples of figural bronze and is supposed to be 8th century AD.


This particular statue discovered somewhere between Batticaloa and Trincomalee in the East coast of Sri Lanka and lifted from the island was ” gifted” by Sir Robert Brownrigg  to the British Museum (BM) .  

 Tara means star and she appears in Mahayana Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism and particularly, Tibetan Lamaism, as a complex array of manifestations: goddess of ascetism and mysticism, mother creator, protectress of all humans as they journey across the sea of life.

The BM says that “the eyes and the elaborately arranged hair were doubtless inlaid with precious stones and a small niche in the headdress would have contained a seated image of  Buddha.  Tara’s right hand is shown in the varamudra – the gesture of giving and although the left hand is empty it may have held a lotus.”

Tara’s creation as myths go is a an interesting fantasy. According to popular belief  she came into existence from a tear of  Avalokiteshvara, which fell to the ground and formed a lake. Out of its waters rose up a lotus which opened to reveal the goddess – a truly painless birth.

She is the ” heavenly deity who hears cries of beings, experiencing misery in samsara; a world of continuous rebirth, death and suffering. As the female aspect of the universe, she gives birth to warmth compassion and relief from bad karma as experienced by ordinary beings in cyclic existence. She engenders, nourishes, smiles at the vitality of creation and has sympathy for all beings as a mother does for her children. “(an extract from http://www.kaalita.com/Asian_art.html)”

‘Tis a time in  Sri Lanka we could do with her compassion,  a powerful feminine force– so isn’t it  a good time to ask the BM to return it to us in Sri Lanka? 

Of course we must be prepared to guard,  protect and preserve it as much she is supposed to protect us.  I suppose she was too compassionate to put a hex on the ones who lifted her from here.

See also

1. British Museum : Gilded Bronze figure of Tara: http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/asia/g/gilded_bronze_figure_of_tara.aspx

2. The Goddess Tara: http://lakdiva.org/tara/

3. For more on various Tara manifestations see: http://www.crystalinks.com/tara.html


Photographs © Chulie de Silva

12 thoughts on “Goddess Tara Time to Come Home ?

  1. I think Tara is safer in a BM than in our own CM. You had your own reservations too when you wrote :”Of course we must be prepared to guard, protect and preserve it as much she is supposed to protect us.”

  2. Sadly, she will never be here. Our own Theravada mullahs, busy with wiping out the rich Mahayana heritage in Lanka will not want her to be anywhere near. It is part of the Mahavamsa madness.

  3. “I think Tara is safer in a BM than in our own CM.”

    Every time when things have been done against my country’s interest. I have been told. “It is for your own good.” I suppose you would also recommend taking away my child, because you could find a better home for her.

    When artefacts from our museums were being taken away without proper documentation, we had protested, only to be told we were damaging the reputation of our country. It took the loss of two of the artefacts, even before they left the country, but in the custody of the French Museum taking them, for the show to be cancelled. Look up ” The Price of Priceless Objects” http://shahidul.wordpress.com/2007/11/29/.

    I am also reminded of the duplicity of the arguments pointed out by Kwame Opoku. It seems to apply to all majority world countries.

    “Africans illegally in Europe must leave.
    African art objects illegally in Europe must stay.”


  4. Having visited Tara in London – before she was placed in the present position, I am convinced that she should not come home. I am a Sinhalese Buddhist: I value my heritage (I am on the Advisory Committee to the Archaeological Dept.) but have considerably less respect for my compatriots.

    1. When the figure was in an enclosed glass cage – this was 20 years ago – there were temperature and humidity gauges visible to all, to check her condition. and that is how it has been looked after so well. Will we ever do that?

    2. In historical times, we had Bhkkhunis and Mahayanists.
    Today, Bhikkhunis are granted a bit of recognition by some monks, while the attempt by a Sinhalese monk (who had adopted Mahayanism) to set up a Mahayanist temple was shot down unceremoniously.

    3. Buddhist monks and laymen both have no hesitation in robbing temples and desecrating Buddha images in search of gold. Has any monk been convicted? What will the fate of Tara be? How many things have been stolen from Museums?

    4. I could go on and on, but consider this: the religion of this country is not Buddhism but the worship of the Politician and the god Mammon. “Salli deiyange malli” is the code.

    5. We take pride in Arthur Clarke having been a citizen, but he was a common thied who looted wrecks and stole items belonging to the Archaeological Department. I have concrete evidence and it will be published very soon – I have already published the evidence abroad and in maritime archaeological circles is name is not “Sir Arthur” but MUD.

    Truly our heritage trasures had been robbed in colonial times: but is it not the same today? By our own people?One Kandyan family had emigrated to Australia and put up for sale a silver crown of a minor king from whom they claimed descent. Such is the value we place on even our family heritage. As long as our real treasures are in proper Museums, our heritage objects will be safe: in my research on Sri Lankan watercraft of days gone by, I came across very important items, carefully looked after (even when not exhibited) in a large number of foreign museums.

    Tara and or Heritage will definitely be safer in good museums, wherever they may be: safer than here.

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  7. I disagree with somasiri devendra. The true religion of Sri Lanka is not Buddhism, and not the worship of the Politician and the god Mammon. It cricket — and what a good thing that is. The high temple of this fanatical following is called Sri Lanka Cricket at SSC grounds, Colombo. The post of high priest (aka head of Sri Lanka cricket) is so influential and lucrative that men (yes, it’s so far all been men!) do anything to get in there and to stay there.

    Unlike all other religions and faiths, cricket UNITES!

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  9. Such an informative piece and lovely photos of a beautiful statue which I agree should be returned to Sri Lanka. It’ll take a high-level official with tenacity.

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