As the second emanation of the Ten Mahavidyas, Tara is fierce truth, tempered with fierce compassion.
She is the inner teacher, the inner guru, the fiery truth in our belly, the force that guides us to move forward with fearlessness and compassion, and to speak truthfully and with kindness.
She is the fullness of our humanity, and the knowledge that moves us beyond our limitations. She has eight forms, and is ferocious as Ugratara. The Ugratara shakti pith near the Kamakhya temple in Guwahati is renowned as the place where the navel of the goddess fell to earth, and is represented by a large pool of water that fills a natural depression in the earth. According to legend, it was Ugratara who swept through Kamarupa, declaring that only through the rites of the Kulācāra (Vāmācāra) Tantra Mārga would liberation be possible.
In the Tantras, it was Tara who humbled the great ṛṣi Bāsiṣtha (Vāsiṣtha) in the forest near Kamakhya, leading him to travel to Tibet to learn these rites he had declared unworthy of his attention in order to worship her properly and secure her blessing, and to finally travel to Birbhum to establish the Tarapith temple. The image above captures darshan of Maa Tara at Tarapith in West Bengal.
Many people who are unfamiliar with the details of iconography mistake Tara for Kali. It’s easy to do, for they are like twin sisters. Tara of Kamakhya, as pictured on the interior of the Bhairavi temple, is dark blue or black and pot-bellied, holding kartarī (a pair of scissors), khaḍga (a sword), muṇḍa (a severed head) or kapālā (a cup or bowl made from a skull cap), and a lotus blossom. When worshipped as Tārā, her face is beautiful and benevolent. When worshipped as Ekajaṭā (related closely to the Tantric Buddhist schools), her face becomes grotesque and terrifying. Each reveals different but related truths about the nature of practice and liberation. Tara’s temple at Kamakhya is the only one with a murti (statue), made of silver. This is because the original pith and temple were lost in a great earthquake that was so powerful it changed the course of the mighty Brahmaputra river and violently shook the Kamakhya temple complex, even destroying part of the main temple, which was rebuilt.
Tara is often considered easier to approach than Kālī, and her name indicates deliverance. She is the protector, the savior. She helps us to cross over – from untruth to truth, from darkness to light, from death to immortality. She is our deepest inner voice, which conveys truth. She is the inner teacher, the inner guru, the fiery truth in our belly, the force that guides us to move forward with fearlessness and compassion, and to speak truthfully and with kindness.
Photo/Artwork credits: Goddess Tara, official image from Tarapith Temple, Birbhum, West Bengal (India), Tara image from popular 19th century print