Heavenly beings and deities

Tara is a female bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism. Her name means ‘Saviouress’ (Skt. tar, ‘to bring across’, ‘to save’). Tara embodies absolute compassion, and can help in all difficulties. Worship of her began in the sixth century in northern India, and became prevalent in particular within the Tibetan schools of Vajrayana Buddhism.

According to one legend, Tara originated in the tears of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. He was said to have felt such great sadness at the level of human suffering in the world that he shed bitter tears; they formed a lake in whose centre there developed a lotus flower from which Tara appeared. Tara is usually portrayed as a striking young girl. Legend has it that she can appear in various forms, including wrathful ones. Her commonest manifestations are as White Tara and Green Tara. The personifications of these two forms are considered to be the Nepali wife and the Chinese wife of the seventh-century Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo. They are said to have persuaded him to introduce Buddhism to Tibet.