Who is Tara anyway? (Mahavidya Series Pt. II)

If Kali, as described in my previous post, is the eternal night, Tara is the first light.


Though she “does not figure prominently in the Hindu tradition,” she figures prominently in Tibetan Buddhism and Tara’s “appearance in the

list of the Mahavidyas can probably be explained, at least in part, by the religious communication that existed for centuries between Tibet and Bengal” (Kinsley 165). Even Hindu texts, such as the Lalita-upakkhyana state she should be worshipped in the Buddhist way (Danielou 277). Perhaps most popularly Tara is known in her beautiful form like that depicted to the right.

But in the Mahavidya tradition, the form she takes is, in many depictions, almost identical to Kali and thus is considered in her terrible form.

“Standing firmly with her left foot forward resting on a corpse,” begins the Tara Tantra, “she laughs loudly…Her hands hold a sword, a blue lotus, a dagger, and a begging blow…Her matted tawny hair is bound with poisonous blue snakes” (qtd. in Danielou 277).

As the first light, Tara, whose name means “star,” “is the power of the Golden Embryo…the first cosmic location from which the world develops” (Danielou 274, emphasis added). The appearance of this light signals, then, the opening process of creation and “as soon as the germ of life appears, hunger is born” and the “embryo wants only food” (ibid.). Tara is this hunger and it is through this hunger, through “devouring some fuel, some food, can the universe survive and develop” (ibid.). Moreover, this ceaseless hunger is the source of material existence and this hunger is named “The Star,” that is, Tara (Danielou 275).


While the name Tara means “star,” Tantric etymology takes it to mean “that which leads to the other shore” and thus “she who brings us to the other shore is Tara” (275), the latter of which brings us to a place in which to engage in a little religious dialogue (see below).

As this embryo, Tara has a dual aspect. As the all-devouring embryo, she is terrible; yet, in finding satisfaction she is pacified and thus luminous.

So who is Tara anyway?

The hunger that is Tara need not be confined to the literal hunger for food. Hunger for anything can be considered as such:

“The search for knowledge, the desire for strength, are also forms of hunger. All that leads man toward his goal comes therefore under the form of a desire, a hunger, and is part of the kingdom of Tara” (275).


According to the Taratyanaya sa tara, Tara is “she who brings us to the other shore” (qtd in. Danielou 275). Such understanding situates Tara within the Prajñāpāramitā Hṛdaya, of the The Heart of the Perfection of Wisdom, commonly known as the  Sutra, one of the most important Mahayana Buddhist texts, the mantra of which is gate gate pāragate pārasaṃgate bodhi svāhā, translated as “gone gone, gone beyond, gone beyond the other shore.” 

The authors of Physicians of the Heart, my primary source for my posts on the 99 Names of Allah, suggest Mutakabbir, the 10th Divine Name, which is the “path to vastness, an ever expanding cosmic wave removing all boundaries…corresponds to the mantra for the Heart of Perfect Wisdom Sutra” (Meyer et al. 41-2). With Mutakabbir there is “the continual action of going beyond” (42).

Thus much like Tara’s hunger is endless, she always seeks more, and her consuming is always expanding. She finds (temporary) satisfaction, only to need more and thus we have a dynamic interplay of desire-satisfaction-more (or expanding) desire.  To achieve satisfaction implies a fullness; to desire suggests an absence that in turn needs to be fulfilled through more consumption.

Much the same with Mutakabbir: “infinite absence is also al-Mutakabbir, because if we assert presence, then we must also assert absence” (Meyer et al. 157). However, “not to get stuck in dualism, the unity of being at this state requires that there must be something that combines presence and absence” (ibid.). In this context Meyer et al. cite the Buddhist concept of shunyata, often translated as emptiness. In Mahayana Buddhism, “sunyata is equated with the absolute as an infinite absence of void. At the same time, they say the clear light of illumination, bodhi or Buddha nature, is one and the same as this void. Here we have another way of describing both infinite presence and infinite absence” (157).

Infinite absence, infinite presence.

Mutakabbir, Tara.

Mutakkabir is the “path to vastness. It is going beyond, constantly going beyond limitation, just as…mantra says: gate, gate, paragate,


parasmagate bodhi svaha” (Meyer et al. 157).

It we are to understand Mutakkabir in relation to the Heart Sutra’s mantra and with the Heart Sutra mantra we also find Tara, whose name, again, is taken to mean “she who brings to the other shore,” then we have a clear case of similarity between the Hindu-Buddhist traditions and the Islamic as approached from the Sufi perspective.

Mutakkabir is “an activity that leads to vastness and transcendence” (Meyer 158), a continual process of becoming along the path toward the Absolute, that is God, much as Tara “is the Great Void, the Star from which all gradually evolved and which leads toward liberation from the endless” (Danielou 276). The Great Void may sound bad, but it is not:

“The formless Immensity that appears to be the innermost nature of things can be grasped as the void, the silence, the absolute darkness, which lies beyond mind, beyond intellect, and can be realized as the substratum of man’s own nature, as his own Self, his own Soul (atman)” (Danielou 16-17).

Since atman, the soul, is brahman, the universal soul, absolute and true reality and atman is described here as the Great Void, the Great Void, too, is Brahman, or what in the monotheistic traditions calls God.

“All deities are aspects of the Void” (Hiranda Sastri Gaud qtd. in Danielou 276). All 99 Names, of which Mutakkabir is just one, are all names for Allah. We might say that Tara is just one of the names of the Void, much as Mutakkabir is an aspect of Allah.

Both embody the principle of going beyond what we know, what we think we know. Going beyond who we are and who and what we think we are, always going beyond and beyond toward the source of all that is, toward the ultimate, true reality. Toward the Void. Toward Brahman. Toward God.



3 thoughts on “Who is Tara anyway? (Mahavidya Series Pt. II)

      1. in all honesty, I labored over naming her (don’t you just love new parents?); it’s so final and feels like it just has to fit the child *and* the adult, has to have meaning, etc etc. above all, I didn’t want her to have a name like everyone else. I dont like anything cookie cutter 😉

        i believe i first read it in a baby book as meaning Tower (as in fortress) which i thought would be great symbolism for the knocks that life can bring. when she was about a year or so, i learned about the ‘mount’ where they crown royalty that you refer to and thought that was pretty cool. a year or so ago, i saw the first reference to the eastern archetype but your post here was the most education I’ve had on her.
        i can easily see aspects of the parental experience as comparable to the work of tara as you describe here.

        Liked by 1 person

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