Tuesday, 15 March 2022

Tara Devi in Sri Lanka

Statue of Tara Devi
Tara Devi (Sinhala: ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ තාරා දේවිය) is considered the most beloved goddess of the Mahayana Buddhist pantheon (Jayawardene, 2016). Although presently Sri Lanka is a Theravada Buddhist country, there is evidence to prove that the Mahayana culture was spreading in the country during the first millennium, especially from 3 century A.D. to 9th century A.D. Statues depicting the major Mahayana icons such as Avalokiteswara, Vajrapani, Manjusri, and Tara have been discovered from a number of localities in Sri Lanka.

Tara
Mala Tara
Tara is a figure in Buddhism and she appears as a female Bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism, and as a female Buddha in Vajrayana Buddhism. She emerged in the history of India about the 6th century A.D. (Jayawardene, 2016). In early representations, she appeared alongside with Bodhisattva Avalokiteswara but by the mid of the 7th century, she has become the very embodiment of the principle of Buddhahood and is regarded as without equal as a liberator, protector, and saviour in both the Mahayana and Vajrayana teachings (Jayawardene, 2016). She became a part of the cultures of several Asian countries including Tibet, Nepal, Mongolia, India and Sri Lanka (Gunawardana, 2019).

Tara in Sri Lanka
Tara started to appear in the society of Sri Lanka around the seventh or eighth century A.D. and was worshipped until the fifteenth century A.D. (Jayawardene, 2016). Evidence for Tara worship in Sri Lanka is found in the Mihintale Slab Inscriptions of Mahinda IV (956-972 A.D.) where she is referred to as goddess Mininal (Gunawardana, 2019; Jayawardene, 2016; Wickremasinghe, 1912). 

Tara is also called Biso Bandara by Sinhalese Buddhists (Gunawardana, 2019). The 14th century Tisara Sandeshaya treats her as Tārā Bisō (Gunawardana, 2019).
 
Tara statues in Sri Lanka
Kurunegala Tara
The presence of Tara statues in Sri Lanka was acknowledged late (Jayawardene, 2016). Based on a comparative study, P.E.P. Deraniyagala identified three bronze images of Tara in 1951 that were mistakenly known as images of Goddess Pattini (Jayawardene, 2016). Thereafter, several scholars such as V. Schroeder, D.K. Dohanian, N. Mudiyanse, A.D.T.E. Perera, N. Wijesekara, L. Prematileke, O. Bopearachchi published articles regarding Tara heritage in the country (Dohanian, 1983; Gunawardana, 2019; Jayawardene, 2016).
 
The Tara Devi in the British Museum is considered the best-known Tara statue produced in Sri Lanka (Jayawardene, 2016). The largest figure of Tara in the country is found in Buduruwagala (Gunawardana, 2019).

This is an incomplete list prepared by "Lanka Pradeepa".
 
No. Location Remarks References
1 Tara (standing), Buduruwagala Viharaya
(Monaragala District)
The largest figure of Tara. Nearly 40 ft. in height. 6-9th centuries A.D.
Gunawardana, 2019
2 Tara (seated), British Museum
(Sri Lanka)
Solid cast gilt-bronze of about 15 cm in height. 7-8th centuries A.D. Removed from Sri Lanka by Hugh Nevill in 1886.
The British Museum (1898,0702.142)
3 Tara Statue (standing), British Museum
(East coast of Sri Lanka)
A solid cast in bronze and gilded. 1.43 m in height. c. 8th century A.D. Removed from Sri Lanka by Sir Robert Brownrigg in 1820.
The British Museum (1830,0612.4)
4 Nila Tara (standing), Vijayarama Monastery
(Anuradhapura District)
The latter part of the 9th century A.D.
Gunawardana, 2019
5 Tara (standing), British Museum
(Sri Lanka)
A bronze figure of a female deity, probably Tara. 4.7 cm in height. 10th century A.D. Removed from Sri Lanka by Hugh Nevill in 1886.
The British Museum (1898,0702.139)
6 Tara (standing), British Museum
(Sri Lanka)
A bronze four-armed female figure, possibly Tara. 16.9 cm in height. 10th century A.D. Removed from Sri Lanka by Hugh Nevill in 1886.
The British Museum (1898,0702.140)
7 Kurunegala Tara (seated), Colombo National Museum
(Kurunegala District)
Solid cast and silver alloyed. 20 cm in height. 10th century A.D.
Gunawardana, 2019
8 Mala Tara (seated), Colombo National Museum
(Mannar District)
Discovered in 1957 near the Mannar lighthouse. 5.4 cm in height. 10th century A.D.
Gunawardana, 2019
9 Tara (seated), Manabharana Viharaya
(Monaragala District)
Discovered in 2012. The height of the statue is 11 cm
Gunawardana, 2019
10 (1) Tara (standing), Tiriyaya
(Trincomalee District)
Discovered in 1983
Gunawardana, 2019
11 (2) Tara (standing), Tiriyaya
(Trincomalee District)
Discovered in 1983
Gunawardana, 2019
12 Tara (standing), Abhayagiriya Museum
(Anuradhapura District)
Discovered from a Padanghara to the northeaster side of Ruwanweliseya. 14.5 cm in height
Gunawardana, 2019
13 Tara (seated), Abhayagiriya Museum
(Anuradhapura District)
Discovered from the Digapashana area at Abhayagiriya. 5 cm in height
Gunawardana, 2019
14 Thribanga Tara (standing), Abhayagiriya Museum
(Anuradhapura District)
18.6 cm in height
Gunawardana, 2019
15 Tara (head), Yatala Museum
(Hambantota District)
The hair is in the ascetic style of Jatāmakūta.
Gunawardana, 2019
16 Tara (head), Yatala Museum
(Hambantota District)
The head cannot be clearly identified.
Gunawardana, 2019
17 Tara, Pasgama Devalaya
(Kandy District)
15th Century Jayawardene, 2016
18 Tara, Vegiriya Devalaya
(Kandy District)
16th century Jayawardene, 2016


References
1) Dohanian, D.K., 1983. Sinhalese Sculptures in the Pallava Style. Archives of Asian Art, 36, pp.6-21.
2) Gunawardana, N., 2019. Identify the statues of Goddess Tārā in Sri Lanka and Evaluate the Importance with Trade. International Journal of Scientific and Research Publications, 9(9), pp.404-410.
3) Jayawardene, S., 2016. Sri Lanka's Tārā Devī. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka, 61(2), pp.1-30.
4) Wickremasinghe, D.M.D.Z., 1912. Epigraphia Zeylanica: Being lithic and other inscription of Ceylon (Vol. I). London. Archaeological Survey of Ceylon. p.103.


This page was last updated on 16 March 2022
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