A principal form of Tara, particularly popular in Tibetan Buddhism, Green Tara is a compassionate deity that enables liberation through the removal of hindrances and obstacles that prevent worshippers from reaching their goals. In this form, Tara is also considered a saviour in the Buddhist pantheon. The goddess is alternatively referred to as Shyama Tara, meaning dark in Sanskrit. Apart from her green hue, the deity is depicted either standing or seated on a blooming lotus with one leg extending downwards.
Green Tara was identified within the Buddhist pantheon as early as the second and third centuries CE in 108 Praises of Tara by Nagarjuna, which contains references to a green form of Tara who protects and grants success to her worshippers. In her earliest depictions, as found in the seventh-century Vajrayana text Mahavairochana Sutra, Green Tara was closely associated with the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara and was shown, in sculpture, as an attendant figure to the bodhisattva. The cult of Green Tara was brought to Tibet in the eleventh century CE by the Buddhist scholar Atisha, a devout follower of Green Tara whose image was allegedly placed in a temple on the premises of his residence. In Tibetan Buddhism where she is known as Sgrol-ljang, Green Tara is believed to have appeared either from Avalokiteshvara’s left eye or from a pool of tears shed by the bodhisattva when faced with the world’s suffering. Another story rooted in popular mythology describes Bhrikuti Devi from Nepal — one of the wives of the Tibetan ruler Songsten Gampo — as a reincarnation of the goddess. At times, Green Tara, known especially for her swift action, is treated as the consort of Amoghasiddhi who is also associated with wilful activity. In Nepal, the goddess is known as Arya Tara and her worship is largely limited to household shrines and temple complexes.
The goddess is worshipped primarily through the recitation of her mantra ‘Om tare tuttare ture svaha’ and in Tibetan Buddhism, through the invocation of her prayers collectively known as the Twenty-One Praises of Tara. Apart from Tantric worship practices, Green Tara is also the subject of visualisation and transference of consciousness practices and is depicted centrally in fivefold mandalas where she appears with other deities.
The emphasis on visualisation in the cult of Tara has given rise to specific iconographic representations of the deity. While early depictions of Tara accompanied Avalokiteshvara, as a central figure Green Tara is depicted enthroned on a lotus with her right leg extends downwards, supported by a smaller lotus, in the lalitasana posture. Her right hand extends the boon-bestowing varada mudra. And while earlier representations depicted her left hand resting on her knee, Green Tara’s iconography has developed to show her holding a blue lotus or the utpala flower clasped between her thumb and ring finger, with the three raised fingers symbolising the three jewels in Buddhism — Buddha, Dharma and Sangha — while a lunar nimbus radiates from behind her. Green Tara is also often depicted as a regal figure adorned with jewellery and fine garments.
An important manifestation of Green Tara is as Khadiravani Tara or Tara of the Acacia forest, known from literary sources dating to the late eighth or early ninth century CE, and artistic representations from the ninth century onwards. She is typically depicted standing with her attendants: the golden-hued Ashokanta Marichi who holds an Ashoka blossom, and Ekajata depicted in shades of blue, who holds a skull-cup. Flowers adorn her hair in the manner of a crown and in some Tibetan paintings, Khadiravani Tara is also depicted as the central figure in a royal celestial court in paradise or yuloku with natural motifs such as trees bearing fruit and flowers. Scholars have suggested that Khadiravani Tara associated with the colour green, attributes such as lotus flowers and the acacia tree which is used in medicine for healing, is intrinsically linked to nature and forests. She is also depicted amid lions, elephants, crocodiles, deer and makaras. Scholars have also traced this emanation of Green Tara to images of the deity Lakshmi who, in Tibet is depicted in green, seated on a lotus against a natural landscape and is associated with nourishment.
Other forms of Green Tara include Mahattari Tara seated with folded legs in deep meditation, Varada Tara, Vashyadhikara Tara who is seated with both legs extending to the ground in the bhadrasana posture, Mahasri Tara in a vitarka mudra or teaching gesture with a pair of lotuses, and Kapali Tara who is depicted under fruit trees.
In Tibetan Buddhism, the cult of Green Tara continues to hold a position of prominence alongside the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. In ritual practice, images of Green Tara painted primarily on thangkas, are used to aid visualisation rituals.
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