09. Syamatara 绿度母

Tibet 西藏
15th Century
Gilt-copper alloy with turquoise
Height: 7½ in. (19 cm.)

European Private Collection

Exquisitely cast, the goddess is seated in lalitasana ('Royal Ease') on a double-lotus base with her pendent right leg supported by a separate lotus issuing from the base.  Her right hand is lowered and touching her knee in varada mudra (a gesture of compassion and charity) while her left hand is raised in vitarka mudra (a gesture of teaching) and holding a lotus stem.  The deity wears a long flowing garment finely incised with floral patterns and secured with beaded festoons at the waist, and she is richly adorned with necklaces, armlets, and a tiara all inset with turquoise.

Green Tara, also known as Syamatara, is venerated as a savior and liberator from samsara, the earthly realm of birth and rebirth.  According to Buddhist mythology, Green Tara either emerged from a lotus bud rising from a lake of the tears of Avalokiteshvara, shed for the suffering of all sentient beings, or from the tears from the left eye of Avalokiteshvara. She embodies compassion in a dynamic form, hence the usual depiction of the goddess with right leg outstretched, ready to leap out to ease suffering.

Regarded as the female bodhisattva, Tara is one of the most widely worshipped female figures of Buddhism—a savior-goddess who is revered for the protection and guidance she offers on the path toward enlightenment.  Tara exists in 21 forms, each representing specific qualities or actions, with Green Tara being one of the more commonly depicted, associated with protection from fear.

In Tibetan mythology the goddess is believed to have emerged from a lotus bud rising from a lake of tears shed for the suffering of sentient beings by the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, with a face “embodying the delicacy of a million lotus blossoms” (Mullin, Mystical Verses of a Dalai Lama, New Delhi, 2003, p. 57).  As in Tibet, the cult of Tara was popular at the Yongle court, with at least ten imperial gilt-bronze examples remaining in published collections.