Tara: Goddess of Cremation Ground

Shamshan (Cremation ground) Tara or Tara (means star) is a lesser-known goddess in Hindu tradition but is a prominent goddess in Tibetan Buddhism and ancient Bengali tradition. She is often confused with Goddess Kali because of her fiery and dramatic appearance.

I first encountered this goddess in William Dalrymple’s The Nine Lives which is a multidimensional and magical collection of short stories about Indian traditions. One of the stories, The Lady Twilight engages with the ancient Hindu tantric tradition and shamshan sadhna.

Recently, I read Aghora: At the Left Hand of God by Robert E. Svoboda which is an intense and wild account of his mystifying teacher Vimlananda and his tantric practices. The spellbinding book gives one a fascinating glimpse of Goddess Tara.

Vimlananda describes the look of her when he first time saw her during shava sadhna (tantric practice in which practitioner sits on the corpse for meditation).

Following is the excerpt from the book.

Smashan Tara standing before me, smiling asking what I wanted from her. Tears come to my eyes whenever I remember that scene. For years the scar remained on my hand as a reminder of the night when I was there in that cemetery sitting on that corpse, and I caught my first glimpse of Smashan Tara. I don’t know what your condition would be if you were to catch sight of Her. You might even die of shock. She is very tall, and Her skin is a beautiful deep midnight-blue color. Her eyes are beautiful; that’s the only way I know to describe them. She has a long red tongue lolling from her mouth. Blood, the blood She is eternally drinking drips slowly from the tip. She is ghatastani, or pot-breasted and lambodari, or full-bellied. Around Her neck, there is a garland of freshly severed human heads which are freshly bleeding. She wears wristlets and armlets of bones, and anklets of snakes. Her four hands grasp a pair of scissors, a sword, a noose, and a skull. She wears a skirt of human arms, and to me, she is one of the loveliest beings in the universe, because she is my Mother.

The blue colored Goddess is often depicted as a young and attractive girl who appears and protects her devotees in the most difficult of circumstances. She will often come disguised as a jackal or some other wild animal in the darkest of the forest. She has the extraordinary power of rescuing her devotees from death and all troubles.

Maa Tara temple is located in Tarapith, a rural town near Rampurhat in Birbhum district of the Indian state of West Bengal. It is known for its tantric practices near the adjoining cremation grounds where sadhana are performed.

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She is accorded the status of Maha Vidyas (Goddess of sacred learnings), second only to Kali. Tara Rahsya gives a detailed description of how to worship this goddess and provides information on her different aspects.

Stephan Beyer in The Cult of Tara: Magic and Ritual in Tibet give an awe-inspiring account of the rituals associated with the much ignored Goddess Tara who protects people from the cradle to the grave.

He writes that Tara known initially as Kurukulla, goddess of subjugation was an independent tribal deity which was incorporated in Buddhism.

In Tibetan Buddhism, Tara is the goddess of compassion and tenderness. She is said to be born from a lotus in an ocean of tears of Avalokitesvara who sheds a tear of sympathy for all beings.

The below verse written by the lama Lozang type jets’en is taken from the same book by Beyar.

Cry of Suffering to Tara
From my heart I bow to the Holy Lady, the essence of compassion, the three unerring and precious places of refuge gathered into one: until I gain the terrace of enlightenment
I pray you to grasp me with the iron hook of your compassion.

As Vimlananda says, she burns away all our karmas from the casual body and frees us from being again, from the bondage of life and death.

In her compassionate and terrifying form, she shows us the dual nature of this world.

9 Comments

  1. Interesting! I don’t know much about the specifies of this emanation, but the symbolism is striking to me!! (thanks for this account of Tara)
    Specially the ‘blue form’. This is one of the most common form in almost all occult stories, given to the lord/godess. Alice. A. Bailey suggests in one of her works that, Blue is the color from which all colors including white emenate (for a spirirual eye). That is why Sri Krishna is sky blue too. So, Tara must be of the same order in terms of the omniscient descending into the physical plane.
    2) blue and girl?! That’s so striking to bala tripura sundari. May be the language changed, and the TRUTH perceived by the seers of both these aspects of God, may be same!
    3)cremation ground represents the background from which the whole germinate and culminates. No wonder, she is depicted so!

    Good to know about Tara, as is, though!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think many Indian gods are blue because somewhere they reflect infinity, limitlessness, and vastness..very much like the sky and water. We see them with the physical eyes.
      Once we have the knowledge and insight to see them as it is they may not appear blue.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. In fact it’s reverse. You see, in Veda, the name VARNA is applied to both sound (as in varna mala – the alphabet) and color. The taittireeya says that “Varna swaraha “. Now, interestingly both are septenary. 7 colors and 7 tones. And when you look in vedas for these colors, you will see that White is one of them. And Blue is not. And you will see that the swara higher ‘Sa’ is associated to the color Blue. What is the role of higher ‘Sa’? From స originates ri, ga, ma, pa, da and ni and all of them culminate in higher Sa. The aspect of culmination is Blue while the aspect of germination is white (hence semen white) and aspect of expression and nurture is Red/Aruna, as I pointed earlier.
        So, Blue is spiritually perceived color of all gods. To induce that thought, the physical imagery is also made so. Else, a poet also knows that blue is no color of skin. 🙂 what you think?

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha…they say, for those who need a tranquil mind Vishnu sahasra nama is to be recited. For attaining powers in order to help the world, Lalita sahasra need to be recited. But for those who like to culminate and recede to the original source, Shiva sahasra nama need to be recited. Seems like the later is for you. 🙂 just an info.

        Like

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