The goddess Tara is the second of the Dasa (ten) Mahavidyas or “Great Wisdom goddesses”, and is a form of Shakti (primeval energy in female form), the tantric manifestations of the goddess. The word ‘Tara’ is derived from the Sanskrit root ‘tṛ’, meaning to cross. In many other contemporary Indian languages, the word ‘tara’ also means star in reference to their motion in crossing the sky.
The origin of the goddess Tara is documented in the tantrik text Tara Rahasya. The legend begins with the churning of the ocean between the Devas and Asuras. Lord Shiva drank the poison (Halahala) that was created from the churning of the ocean (in the process turning his throat blue and earning him the epithet Nilakantha), thus saving the world from destruction, but fell unconscious under its powerful effect. Mahadevi Durga appeared as Maa Tara and took Shiva on her lap. She suckled him, the milk from her breasts counteracting the poison, and he recovered.
According to a text named Adbhuta Ramayana, when Sita in the form of Kali slew Sahasraskandha Ravana, Brahma and other deities propitiated Her with hymns. Appeased, Devi assumed the calmer form of Tara. Holding Her sword with the right hand, Devi accepted the clothing of tiger skin from Brahma, removed Her golden crown, piled Her hair into Jatamukuta and bound it with the serpent Akshobhya. Rudra laid on the ground and requested the boon of Brahmavidya from Her,to which Devi placed Her left foot on his chest and enlightened him. Hence, Rudra offered Her a blue lotus and a skull cup.
A variant version speaks of Tara’s demon-slaying form;a demon called Hayagriva wrecked havoc everywhere and banished Devas from Amaravati after defeating them and robbing them off their possessions. It is then that Devas approached Brahma,who lead them to Kali. The Supreme Goddess created another Devi from Her third eye,who was none other than Tara,and sent Her to defeat Hayagriva. In the battle that ensued,Tara prevailed and slew Hayagriva.
A non popular version from Kalika Purana associates Tara with Matangi (both considered forms of Saraswati). According to this,when Devas were defeated by the demons Sumbha and Nisumbha,they sought refuge in Himalayas and began to propitiate Devi. At that time,sage Matanga’s wife Matangisaw Devas and asked whom are they propitiating,before Devas could answer,Devi Mahasaraswati manifested from Matangi’s body and replied that the Devas were propitiating Her. Since Mahasaraswati manifested from Matangi’s body,the fair complexioned eight-armed goddess came to be known as Kaushiki. On the other hand, Matangi’s complexion turned dark and She came to be known as Kali and Ugratara.
Kali and Tara are similar in appearance. They both are described as standing upon a supine Shiva in an inert or corpse-like form. However, while Kali is described as black, Tara is described as blue. Both wear minimal clothing, however Tara wears a tiger-skin skirt, while Kali wears only a girdle of severed human arms. Both wear a garland of severed human heads. Both have a lolling tongue, and blood oozes from their mouths. Their appearances are so strikingly similar that it is easy to mistake one for the other.Tara is shown standing in Pratyalidha posture(in which the left foot is forward). Her Bhairava(consort) is Akshobhya,a Bodhisattva who is in the form of a cobra coiled around Tara’s matted hair. She wears a crown made of skulls of five meditating Buddhas. Tara has eight forms called Ashta Tara and the names are Tarinismrita, Ugratara, Mahogra, Kameshwari, Chamunda, Nilasaraswati, Vajra, and Bhadrakali. Tara is said to be more approachable to the devotee (Bhakta) or Tantrika because of her maternal instincts.
Like Kali, furthermore, Tara in her Hindu context enjoys blood. In her hymn of a hundred names from the Mundamala-tantra, she is called “She Who Likes Blood”, “She Who Is Smeared with Blood” and “She Who Enjoys Blood Sacrifice”
Tara can be distinguished visually from Kali primarily via her implements. Four armed, she carries a sacrificial sword, a severed head or skull cup, a blue lotus and a flying knife. Kali never holds a lotus or a flying knife. Tara resides in five voids. In the first void, She is creatrix; in the second void, She is Vishvarupini;in the third void, She is Nirguna Brahman; in the fourth void,She is the sustainer and finally, in the fifth void, She is the Annihilator. The void in itself is Brahman, where all-transcending Kali resides. The relation between Tara and Kali is that of Shiva and Shakti;Tara is Shakti and Kali is Shiva
Tara protects her devotees from difficult dangers and so She is also known as ‘’’Ugratara’’’. The goddess is all-pervading and also manifests in the earth. A devotee who becomes conscious of her Mantra attains moksha (liberation), gets the ability to create poems and gets the complete understanding of all the Shastras
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