The gods of northern Buddhism

their history, iconography and progressive evolution through the northern Buddhist countries

by Alice Getty | 1914 | 98,662 words

Indispensable reference for art historians, scholars of Eastern philosophy and religion. Wealth of detailed scholarly information on names, attributes, symbolism, pictorial representations of virtually every major and minor divinity in Mahayana pantheon, as worshipped in Nepal, Tibet, China, Korea, Mongolia, and Japan. 185 black-and-white illustrat...

Chapter X - Feminine Divinities

[1]Table X
I. Two
I. Attri-
I. Green; right foot pendent on lotus support Green Tara.
    II. White; legs locked . White Tara.
I. One
III. Yellow; right foot may be pendent Yellow Tara.
II. Lute . . . . . . . . . . . Sarasvati.
III. Lute and white snake . . . . . Aryajanguli.
IV. Chopper and skull-cup . . . . Ekajata.
II. Four to sixteen arms . . . . . . . . . Cunda.
III. Eight arms, sword, wheel, arrow, lotus . . . Ekajata with Tara.
I. One or
three heads.

I. Two
to six
I. Draws the bow, dancing . . . . . . Kurukulla.
II. 1. Angry, red . .
II. Calm, white . .
Bhrikuti (angry)
    Bhrikuti (calm).
III. Vase, spike of grain Vasudhara.
IV. Book . . . . . . Prajnaparamita.
II. Six to
ten arms
One head, two arms . Marici.
Three heads, of which
one is that of a sow
II. Three
I. Six arms . . . . . . . . . Bhrikuti (angry).
II. Six or eight arms, apron of leaves . Parnasavari.
III. I. Double thunderbolt . . . .
II. Two parasols, third eye, sometimes four heads . . . .
        Dakini Vajra-varahi.  
        Na ro-mk'ha-spyod-ma.  
The Pafica Dhyani-Buddha Sakti Vajradhatvisvari.


Until the female principle was glorified by Krishna, the Aryans had exclusively worshipped Agni, the male principle in the universe, their only feminine divinity being the virgin goddess of the Dawn, Ushas.

The Aryans did not admit the feminine principle in their worship until civilization in India had become more refined, but, at the same time, weakened. Brahma was given a feminine counterpart — Sarasvati, goddess of Speech and Learning and patroness of the Arts and Sciences; Vishnu received as consort the goddess of Love and Beauty, Lakshmi; while the Maha-Devi, Parvati, whose ferocious forms are Durga and Kali, goddess of Death, became the sakti of Siva.

The Mahayana school had also its period of the exclusive adoration of the male principle, from the first to the middle of the sixth century A. d., at which epoch the Yoga system was grafted on to the Northern Buddhist school by Asanga, and the adoration of the feminine principle was introduced in the form of the goddess Tara. In the seventh century she took on two distinct forms, and in the succeeding centuries her forms multiplied, forming a group of twenty-one Taras. Other goddesses, also having the rank of Bodhisattva, made their appearance, but none of them gained the popularity of Tara.

By the seventh century the corrupt influence of the Tantra system had begun to weaken the austerity of the Northern Buddhist school, and not only did Tantra, or ferocious forms of the goddesses, appear, but the adoration of the Sakti, or female energy of a god, was introduced, and the 'green' Tara was declared the Sakti of Avalokitesvara.

Gradually the popular belief throughout Tibet and Mongolia developed in favour of the view that a god was more disposed to listen to and grant their requests when worshipped in company with his Sakti. As a result, nearly every god was given a female energy, who was represented with him in the yab-yum [2] attitude, which was the final sign of degradation of the Mahayana school.

In China the only feminine divinity whose popularity equalled the masculine deities was the goddess Kwan-yin. She was, however, not worshipped as the consort of Avalokitesvara, but as a feminine manifestation of the god himself, for a specific purpose — as was also the goddess Kwan-non in Japan.

The worship of the Sakti was never adopted in China or Japan. The only representations of a god in yab-yum attitude are found in the few Lama temples still existing in China.

In Japan several goddesses of the Mahayana pantheon are worshipped; but in both China and Japan the male principle alone is considered of primal importance, since no woman, without gaining masculinity through re-incarnation, can enter Sukhavati, the paradise of Amida.

There are three forms of feminine divinities: goddesses with rank of Bodhisattva, fakti, and dakini.

The goddesses are divided into two classes: the pacific and the angry.

The pacific goddesses are generally represented seated, and wear the thirteen Bodhisattva ornaments, including the five-leaved crown. They are of smiling expression, and usually have the urna on the forehead. The hair is long and wavy.

The angry goddesses, with dishevelled hair, the third eye, and Tantra ornaments and attributes, resemble the Dharmapala form of the gods.

The sakti are rarely represented alone, but in the embrace of the gods, and are of pacific or angry form according to the god with whom they are represented. They are generally covered at the hips by a tiger or lion skin, and have either Bodhisattva or Tantra ornaments and attributes.

The dakini are divinities of lesser rank, and are generally represented standing in a dancing attitude. Although they may have either pacific or angry forms, they are always represented with Tantra ornaments and attributes, and generally carry the khatvanga, or magic stick claimed to have been invented by Padmasambhava. The dakini are believed to have given to the guru Padmasambhava the books in an unknown language, on which he is said to have founded the doctrines he preached in Tibet.

There is a group of five dakini that seems to correspond with the five DhyaniBuddhas and Bodhisattva:

Buddha dakini holding a wheel.
Vajra ,, ,, thunderbolt.
Ratna ,, ,, jewel.
Padma ,, ,, lotus.
Visa ,, ,, double (thunderbolt).

Pander [3] gives still another dakini called 'Karma', holding a sword.


Tara (rank of Bodhisattva)

(The Saviouress).

(T.) sgrol-ma (dbl-ma), or rol-ma (the Saviouress).
(M.) dara eke (Tara, the mother).
(C.) To-lo ().
(J.) Ro-tara-ni-bi

Mudra: vitarka (argument), vara (charity).
Symbol: parkaa (lotus).
Colour: white or green.
Tantra forms: blue, yellow, or red.
Consort of Avalokitesvara: white.
Sakti of Avalokitesvara: green.

Different names: Jarigull, Ekajata, BhrikutI, Kuru, kulla, Sitatara, &c.

The goddess Tara was enrolled among the Northern Buddhist gods in the sixth century; by the seventh, according to Hiuen-teang, there were many statues of her in Northern India, and between the eighth and twelfth centuries her popularity equalled that of any god in the Mahayana pantheon. Many temples and colleges were dedicated to her, and there was hardly a household altar without a statue of Tara. Her worship extended to Java, but neither Tara nor any other goddess was worshipped in Ceylon, [4] Burma, and Siam. The Southern Buddhist school never adopted the feminine divinities.

'Tara', the Sanskrit name of the goddess, according to M. de Blonay, is derived from the root 'tar' (to cross). In other words, Tara helps to cross the Ocean of Existence. The Tibetan translation of 'Tara' is sgrol-ma (pro. dol-ma), which means 'saviouress' or 'deliveress'. Her Mongolian name 'Dara eke' means 'Tara mother', and she is called the 'mother of all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas'. The faithful may appeal to her directly without the intermediary of a lama, which is not the case with the other deities of first rank, and possibly accounts for her great popularity.

Her titles are to the mystic number of 108, and the manual of worship of Tara is commonly found throughout Tibet. It is called the 'Praises and Spells (dharanl) of the pure, original Tara', and is believed to have been written by the Dhyani-Buddha Vairocana; [5] but the author was more probably the monk Vairocana, who lived in the eighth century.

There are infinite legends in regard to the origin of Tara, one of them being that she was born from a blue ray that shone from the eye of Amitabha. The generally accepted legend, however, is that a tear fell from the eye of the god of Misericordia, Avalokitesvara, and, falling in the valley beneath, formed a lake. From the waters of the lake arose a lotus-flower, which, opening its petals, disclosed the pure goddess Tara.

The lamas believed that Tara was incarnate in all good women, and in the seventh century they declared the two pious wives of the Tibetan Buddhist king, Srong-tsangampo, incarnations of Tara. She was then given two distinct forms: the 'white', believed to be incarnate in the Chinese princess Wen-ch'eng, daughter of the emperor of China; [6] and the 'green', incarnate in the Nepalese princess Bribsun, daughter of the Newar king Amsu Varman. The white and green Taras thus became distinct deities. The former was given as symbol the full-blown white lotus, while the latter carried the utpah, or blue lotus with the petals closed.

As the lotus opens by day and closes by night, the white Tara with the fullblown lotus, and the dark Tara with the utpala having its petals closed, may symbolize 'day' and 'night'.[7] Or in other words, since they were born from the tears shed by Avalokitesvara, they may represent his never-ceasing grief at the miseries of mankind. Or they might also symbolize the willingness of Tara to soothe human suffering by day as well as by night, for it is believed that Avalokitesvara imposed on her that duty.

In support of the above hypothesis, M. de Blonay mentions a representation of Tara found in a Jain temple in the fort of Dambal. [8] She is seated, holding a fullblown lotus in her hand. To the right is a sun, to the left a moon under which is a standing figure holding a lotus with its hand in namahkara (prayer) niudra. In the library of the Institut de France there is a temple-painting of Padmapani, with the sun emanating from the right eye and the moon from the left (see Padmapani with twelve emanations). The white Tara was born from a tear which fell from the right eye, and the green Tara from a tear from the left eye of Avalokitesvara. It is also interesting to note that the second Tara in the group of twenty-one Taras is called 'of white moon brightness', and that the seventeenth Tara carries a sun and a moon.

The Tantra forms of Tara made their appearance when the Northern Buddhist school became weakened by the pernicious influence of the Tantra system. These ferocious forms of the goddess were represented in the three colours: red, yellow, and blue, which, with the white and green pacific forms, completed the five colours of the five Dhyani-Buddhas of whom they were believed to be the SaMi.

In the collection of Tibetan temple pictures belonging to M. Bacot, there is a painting of Tara with 'one thousand heads and arms'. The heads are arranged in two rows on either side of the central row, superposed one above the other ad infinitum, and the five rows are painted green, red, white, yellow, and blue. She is represented standing, which is very unusual in Tibetan representations of the goddess (PI. xxxviii).

The Taras are almost always seated, but if they accompany Avalokitesvara, or any other important god, they are usually standing. Tara may be surrounded by her own manifestations as well as by other gods.

The non-Tantra forms of Tara wear all the Bodhisattva ornaments, and are smiling and graceful. Their hair is abundant and wavy. The Tantra forms have the ornaments and symbols of the Dharmapala, with the hair dishevelled and the third eye.

In Japan Tara is found more often in temple banners than in statues, and is little worshipped.

The Japanese believe that Tara made two vows: to conquer evil (as green Tara) and to save human beings (as white Tara). There is, however, in Japan but one form of the goddess. She holds the lotus, and may be making ' charity ' and ' argument ' mudra, or have the hands folded. Her colour is a whitish green, and she never has eyes on the palms of her hands or the soles of her feet like the Tibetan white Tara. She holds the blue lotus or the kichi-jis-Jcwa (pomegranate), which is believed, as in India, to drive away evil.

In China her worship is practically unknown, although Hiuen-tsang mentions a statue of the goddess Tara, ' of great height and endowed with divine penetration ', and says that on the first day of each year, kings, ministers, and powerful men of the neighbouring countries brought flower offerings of exquisite perfume, and that the religious ceremonies lasted for eleven days with great pomp.


White Tara

(S.) Sitatara.
(T.) sgrol-dkar (pro. do-kar) (the white saviouress).
(M.) jaghan dara eke (the white mother Tara).

Mudra: vitarka (argument), vara (charity).
Symbol: padma (full-blown white lotus).
Consort of Avalokitesvara.

The white Tara symbolizes perfect purity, and is believed to represent Transcendent Wisdom, which secures everlasting bliss to its possessor. She is the consort of Avalokitesvara, and is represented at his right hand, generally standing.

In Tibet she is considered a form of the green Tara, but in Mongolia, where the goddess is extremely popular, she is looked upon as equal, if not superior, to the green Tara.

This form of Tara is white, as she is believed to have been incarnate in the Chinese wife of the Buddhist king Srong-tsan-gampo, who was of white complexion according to Buddhist accounts, but was probably painted, following the Chinese custom.

When alone or surrounded by acolytes, Sitatara is represented seated, with the legs locked, the soles of the feet turned upward (PI. xxxvn, fig. d). She wears the same garments and ornaments as a Bodhisattva, and her hair is abundant and wavy. Her right hand is in 'charity' mudra, and her left, holding the stem of the full-blown lotus, is in 'argument' mudra. She generally has the third eye of fore-knowledge, and if there are eyes on the palms of her hands and the soles of her feet, she is called 'Tara of the Seven Eyes' (PI. xxxvi). This form is most popular in Mongolia, and may be found (but rarely) in China. As the sakti of Amoghasiddha (according to the system of the five Dhyani-Buddhas) she is represented seated with legs closely locked, her hands in 'argument' and 'charity' mudra, holding the stems of lotus-flowers which support the visvavajra or double thunderbolt, symbol of the fifth Dhyani-Buddha. [9]

Janguli-Tara is a Tantra form of Sita-Tara, and is invoked to cure serpent stings. She is represented with four arms; with the normal ones she plays on a lute, with the second right hand she makes the mudra of protection, and with the second left hand she holds a snake. If painted, she is white, [10] as well as her clothes, ornaments, and the snake she holds.

It is interesting to note that, in Japan, Sarasvati is worshipped in the form of a white snake. The lute which the Jangull-Tara carries is the special symbol of Sarasvati, while the white snake, which is the special symbol of the JahgullTara, symbolizes Sarasvati!


Green Tara

(S.) Syamatara.
(T.) sgrol-ljah (pro. do-ngon) (the green saviouress).
(M.) noghoghan dara eke (the green mother Tara).

Mudra: vitarka (argument). vara (charity).
Symbol: utpala (blue lotus, closed).
Sakti of Avalokitesvara.

The green Tara is considered by the Tibetans to be the original Tara. In fact, the Tibetan name for the goddess is dd-ngon, which means 'the original Tara'; but ngon (original) has been confused by the ignorant lamas with sngo, meaning 'green' (or blue), and the epithet 'green' has become inseparable from this form of Taraj which symbolizes the Divine Energy.

She is represented seated on a lotus-throne, the right leg pendent, with the foot [11] supported by a small lotus, the stem of which is attached to the lotus-throne. She is slender and graceful in her pose, which is somewhat more animated than that of the white Tara. She is dressed like a Bodhisattva and wears the thirteen ornaments, and usually the five-leaved crown (PI. xxxvn, figs, a and c).

Her hair is abundant and wavy. Her right hand is in 'charity' mudra, and her left, which is in ' argument ' mudra, holds the blue lotus presented in profile.

The utpala is represented either with all the petals closed or the central petals closed, while the outside rows are turned back. The artists, however, do not always follow tradition and sometimes erroneously give the green Tara the full-blown lotus of the white Tara (PL xxxviii). She may be represented 'Simhanada', that is to say, that her lotus-throne is supported by a roaring lion (PI. xxxvn, fig. b). The goddess may also be represented with a small image of Amoghasiddha in her head-dress, both when alone or as a sakti, and she usually has the urna on her forehead.

If represented in company with several gods, she is usually at the left of the principal god, but in miniatures is sometimes at the right of Avalokitesvara. She may be accompanied by eight green Taras or only by her manifestation, Ekajata, and the goddess Marici, or by Jangull and the goddess Mahamayuri.

In the latter case she is called Bhanada, 'giver of treasures', and has four arms. The upper normal ones make the usual mudra, while the other two hold a lasso and elephant goad.

The green form of the Janguli-Tara has four arms and holds Tantra symbols.

The 'Taras of the four Dreads' is a group of four ferocious Taras, of which, unfortunately, the author has been unable to find either examples or description.

The titles of the twenty-one Taras, [12] according to Mr. Waddell, are the following:

  1. Tara the supremely valiant.
  2. Tara of white-moon brightness.
  3. Tara the golden coloured.
  4. Tara the victorious hair-crowned.
  5. Tara the 'Hun' shouter.
  6. Tara the three world best worker.
  7. Tara suppressor of strife.
  8. Tara bestower of supreme power.
  9. Tara the best providence.
  10. Tara dispeller of grief.
  11. Tara cherisher of the poor.
  12. Tara brightly glorious.
  13. Tara universal nature worker.
  14. Tara with frowning brows.
  15. Tara giver of prosperity.
  16. Tara subduer of passions.
  17. Tara supplier of happiness.
  18. Tara excessively vast.
  19. Tara dispeller of distress.
  20. Realization of spiritual power.
  21. Completely perfect.


Yellow Taras


(The goddess that frowns.)

(T.) k'ro-gnyer-can-ma (she whose face is wrinkled with anger [or frowning]).
(M.) kilingtil eke (the angry mother).

Mudra: vara (charity).
Symbols: trisula (trident), mala (rosary), padma (lotus), kalasa (vase).

Bhrikuti [13] is an angry form of Tara, and has one head and four arms. The lower right hand is in ' charity ' mudra, sometimes holding a lotus; the upper one holds a rosary. In the left hands are a trident and a vase. She is generally standing, especially if she accompanies Amoghapasa, a form of Avalokitesvara, but, according to a sadhana translated by M. Foucher, she may be reclining. She has the third eye and her brows are frowning.

Bhrikuti may also have three heads and six arms, but in this form she is blue (v. Blue Two).

Khadiravani-Tara is a form of the yellow Tara. She is represented seated, with the right leg pendent, but the foot is not supported by a small lotus asana like the green Tara. The right hand is in 'charity' mudra and holds the stem of a full-blown lotus-flower. The left hand is in 'argument' mudra and holds the stem of an utpala. She may be accompanied by the goddesses Marici and Ekajata.

Vajra-Tara is represented with four heads, eight arms, and the third eye. She is often found in Mandala, where the four doors of the magic circle are guarded by the Yogini (fairies) Vajrankusi, Vajrasphoti, and Vajraghanta. The four corners are guarded by four Taras, 'of the flowers', 'of the incense', 'of the lamp', and 'of the perfume'. The right hands hold a thunderbolt, arrow, and conch-shell, and form the mudra 'charity'. The left hands hold the blue lotus, bow, elephant goad, and lasso. If painted, she is yellow.

Jahgull-Tara is represented with three heads and six arms. The yellow form does not carry the lute as does the white Janguli, but holds all Tantra symbols.


Blue Tara

Ekajata (or Ekajati)

(She who has but one chignon)

or Ugra-Tara (the ferocious Tara).

(T.) ral-gcig-rna (lit. 'she who has one knot of hair').

Ekajata is a ferocious form of Tara, and, with Lhamo (see), is one of the most terrifying manifestations in the Mahayana pantheon. In her simplest form she is the assistant of the green Tara, and is represented seated, holding in her two hands the chopper and skull-cup.

When not the assistant of Tara, she has from four to twenty-four arms, and is generally standing and stepping to the right on corpses. She has the third eye, is laughing horribly, her teeth are prominent, and her protruding tongue, according to the sadliana, is forked. Her eyes are red and round. Her hips are covered by a tiger-skin, and she wears a long garland of heads. If painted, her colour is blue, and her chignon is red. She is dwarfed and corpulent. Her ornaments are snakes.

If she has but four arms her symbols are: sword, knife, blue lotus, and a skull-cup, or she may carry the bow and arrow instead of the last two symbols. If she has twentyfour arms, she carries several non-Tantra symbols and the rest are all Tantra.

They are the following:

  1. Sword.
  2. Thunderbolt.
  3. Disc.
  4. Jewels.
  5. Elephant goad.
  6. Arrow.
  7. Lance.
  8. Hammer.
  9. Bludgeon.
  10. Knife.
  11. Tambourine.
  12. Rosary.
  13. Bow.
  14. Lasso.
  15. Index raised.
  16. Flag.
  17. Hammer.
  18. Trident.
  19. Cup.
  20. Blue Lotus.
  21. Bell.
  22. Chopper.
  23. Brahma head.
  24. Skull-cup.


Red Tara

Kurukulla. (Goddess of Wealth.)

(T.) ku-ru-ku-le (goddess of wealth).

Mudra: abhaya (blessing of Fearlessness).
Symbols: capa (bow), sara (arrow).

The goddess Kurukulla is called by M. Foucher 'the heart of Tara'. She is worshipped by unhappy lovers, but can only be invoked when no woman is near. Red is the colour of love in India, and, according to the sadhana translated by M. Fouchier: [14] The Happy One is red of colour; red is the lotus on which she is seated; red is her clothing; red her crown; she has four arms; at the right, she makes the abhaya mudra, and with the other hand holds the arrow; at the left, with one hand she holds the precious bow, and with the other the red lotus. Amitabha is seated in her tiara; she lives in a grotto in the Kurukulla mountain; she beams with the emotion of love in all the freshness of youth; it is thus that one must imagine Kurukulla.

She is usually represented in dancing attitude, sometimes on the demon Rahu, but she may be seated. If standing, the right leg is raised and she stands on the left, which is also bent. She either wears a crown of skulls or a band surmounted by five ornaments, the central one of which is a wheel surmounted by a skull. A small image of Amitabha may be in her head-dress. Her expression is ferocious and she has the third eye. She wears a long garland of heads and a scarf, the stiff folds of which rise above her shoulders at the back of her head. Her breast and hips are covered with ornaments. With her normal arms she draws the bow and arrow. With the other two hands she may make the abhaya mudra and hold a vajra or lasso. Her colour is red, her hair is yellow (PI. xliii, figs, a and b).

She is the goddess of Wealth and follows in the suite of the god of Wealth, Kuvera, but is not his consort or sakti.

There are other still more ferocious manifestations of Kurukulla, with six and eight arms, represented dancing on corpses.



(Goddess of Music and Poetry).

(T.) dbyans-can-ma (having a melodious voice), or nag-gi-lha-mo (goddess of speech).
(M.) kele-jin ukin tegri (goddess of speech).
(C.) Ta-pien-ts'ai-t'ien ngiu () (goddess of great eloquence), or Miao-yin-fo-mu ().
(J.) Ben-zai-ten (or Benten).

Symbol: vina (lute).
Colour: white.
Vahana: peacock.
Sakti of Manjusri.

Sarasvati is the sakti of both Brahma and Manjusri. As goddess of music and poetry, she is revered alike by Brahmans and Buddhists, and her worship has penetrated as far as China and Japan.

In India and Tibet she is generally represented seated, holding with her two hands the vina, or Indian lute; but in Tibet she may hold a thunderbolt, in which case she is called Vajra-sarasvati. If painted, her colour is white and her mount a peacock. [15]

The Aryajanguli, a form of the white Tara, also holds a lute in two of her four hands, but the special attribute of this goddess is a white snake. In Japan the white snake is believed to be a manifestation of Sarasvati, from which we must infer that the Japanese have confounded the two goddesses, Sarasvati and Jangull.

According to the sadhana, [16] she has a Tantra form in Tibet which is red, with three faces, six arms, a warlike pose, and Tantra attributes.

In Japan the goddess Benten is looked upon as a manifestation of Sarasvati. Her full name is Dai-ben-mi-ten, or 'Great Divinity of the Reasoning Faculty', and she is believed to confer power, happiness, riches, long life, fame, and reasoning powers. She is also one of the Seven Gods of Good Luck — the only feminine divinity of the group.

In regard to the goddess Benten, there is the following ancient Japanese legend: Once upon a time there was a monstrous dragon that devoured all the children who lived in the neighbourhood of the cave where he dwelt. A violent earthquake took place and the goddess Benten appeared on a cloud. From the waters suddenly emerged the island Enoshima, and the goddess Benten, descending to the island, 'married the dragon, [17] and put an end to his ravages'. It is probably in reference to this legend that the goddess is generally represented either sitting or standing on a dragon or huge snake. She has only two arms, and holds a biwa or Japanese lute.

Hayashi Kazan, a sixteenth-century writer, states in his Jinshako (studies on shrines) that Tairo-no-Tokimasa once repaired to the shrines of Enoshima to pray to the goddess for the prosperity of his descendants. She appeared to him in the form of a beautiful woman, prophesied as to the future of his descendants, and then, turning into a huge snake, wriggled away into the sea.

It is probably on account of the belief that Benten is closely connected with snakes and dragons that her shrines are always in caverns, on islands, or near the sea. In one of the temples of Kamakura there is the representation of a coiled snake [18] with a man's head having a scraggy beard, which the common people worship as the goddess Benten. Yanagiwara Motomochi, a writer of the eighteenth century, states in his Kansojigo that a painting of Benten with three heads and a serpentine body had been handed down in his family for generations, and was believed to have come originally from a temple in Kyoto.

Tse Teijo, another eighteenth-century writer, says, in his Anzaizuihitsu, that the form of Benten which has a woman's head and a serpentine body came from Roman Catholicism, where 'Deus was so represented'. He further states that when Catholicism was repressed and the followers were persecuted by the government, at the end of the sixteenth century, they worshipped this form of God, calling it Benten.

But, although there are many legends of Benten connecting her with the snake, there is nothing which explains the meaning of the snake, or whether Benten and the snake are one and the same or only 'mistress and servant'.

The goddess Benten also has, in Japan, a Tantra form with eight arms. Her attributes are: a sword, spear, axe, box, arrow, lasso, thunderbolt, and a 'Wheel of the Law'.

According to Satow, Benten is believed, by certain sects, to be a sister of Vishnu, and by others a feminine manifestation of Vairocana; but in her form with the lute she is unquestionably a manifestation of Sarasvati.



(T.) tsunda.
(C.) Chun-ti ().

Mudra: dhydna (meditation).
Symbols: kalasa (vase), mala (rosary), pustaka (book).
Colour: red (or white).

The goddess Cunda has two representations — one with four arms and another with sixteen. She may even have eighteen, for there is a statue of Cunda in the courtyard of the house of the Mahant of Bodh-Gaya with eighteen arms.

According to the sadhana, the form with four arms is red, and the upper hands hold the rosary and book, while the lower are in 'meditation' mudra and hold the vase. She has a sweet expression.

Cunda with sixteen arms is warlike in appearance, but besides the sword, hatchet, bow, arrow, and thunderbolt, she carries a rosary, lotus, vase, &c, and one of her hands may be in 'charity' mudra, while the original pair of hands are in 'teaching' mudra.


Vasudhara (or Vasundhara)

(Goddess of Abundance).

Mudra: charity.
Symbols: kalasa (vase), spike of grain.
Colour: yellow.
Sakti of Kuyera

Vasudhara, goddess of Abundance, is the Sakti of Kuvera, god of Wealth. She is always represented with one head, but may have from two to six arms, and wears all the Bodhisattva ornaments. When she has but two arms, the left hand holds a spike of grain, while the right holds a vase, out of which pour a quantity of jewels.

Vasudhara, represented with six arms, holds in the lower left hand her characteristic symbol, the vase: the hand above holds another distinguishing attribute, the spike of grain. The third hand holds a book, the Prajnaparamita. The lower right hand, lying on the knee, is in 'charity' mudra, and may hold a lotus-bud; the one above holds a jewel, while the upper hand makes a mudra of salutation. The right leg is usually pendent, and the foot is unsupported or rests upon a vase which is supported by a lotus asana, like her consort Kuvera. In the Nepalese miniatures, however, she is sometimes white instead of yellow, and holds the bow and arrow, a spike of grain and three peacock feathers.

She may have a small image of Ratnasambhava in her head-dress, and be accompanied by four minor goddesses or eight Yakshini. According to Waddell Vasudhara is a form of the Indian goddess Hariti. [19]


Prajnaparamita [20]

(Goddess of Transcendent Wisdom).

(T.) S'es-rab-pha-rol-tu (lit. 'she who lias arrived on the other side of superior wisdom').
(M.) bilig-un cinadu kijaghar-a kuruksen (being possessed of more than superior wisdom).

Mudra: dharmacakra (turning the Wheel of the Law).
Symbols: pustaka (book), mala (rosary).
Colour: yellow.

Prajnaparamita, is a personification of the attribute she carries, the sacred book, which Gautama Buddha is believed to have given the Nagas to guard until mankind should become sufficiently enlightened to understand its Transcendent Wisdom. The goddess is, in fact, an incarnation of the Divine Word.

In Nepal, according to Bhagvanlal Indraji, she is worshipped by those who desire to know the true doctrine, and in Java she is also popular, but in Tibet she is almost unknown.

Prajnaparamita is represented with all the Bodhisattva ornaments, and may have two or four arms. If there are but two arms the book is supported by a blue lotus at her left shoulder, and the hands are in 'teaching' mudra. [21]

If she has four arms the upper hands carry the book and rosary, or the upper left hand may hold the stem of a blue lotus which supports the book, and the upper right make the dbliaya mudra, while the lower hands in both cases are in dharmacakra mudra.

A small image of Akshobhya may be in her head-dress, and there is usually the urna on her forehead.

By certain sects she was looked upon as the sakti of Vajradhara.


Marici (rank of Bodhisattva)

(lit. Eay of Light)

(Goddess of the Dawn).

(T.) liod-zer-can-ma (she of the brilliant rays).
(J.) Marishi-ten.

Symbols: asoka (branch), vajra (thunderbolt).
Colours: yellow or red.
Vahana: seven pigs.
Consort of Hayagriva.

Different names: Vajravarahi and Asokakanta.

The goddess MaricI is called in China 'Queen of the Heavens' and 'Mother of the Dipper'. In Tibet her title is 'Goddess of the Dawn', and, according to M. Foucher, is invoked by the lamas every morning at sunrise. Among the common people she is not so popular as Tara, but there are several shrines dedicated to her in Tibet, and in her Vajravarahl form she is believed to be incarnate in every successive abbess of the monastery of Semding.

Vajravarahl means the 'Adamantine sow', and there is a legend [22] to the effect that one of these abbesses had an excrescence behind her ear which resembled a sow's head. A Mongol warrior, Yun-gar, when attacking the monastery, called out insulting challenges for the abbess to come forth and show her sow's head. When the walls were destroyed and the army invaded the place, they found it inhabited by sows and pigs, led by a sow bigger than the rest. Yun-gar was so amazed at the sight that he stopped the pillage, at which the sows and pigs became transformed into monks and nuns, and the largest sow into the abbess herself. Yun-gar became converted at the miracle and enriched the monastery.

This legend does not, however, explain the origin of the name 'Vajravarahi', which is more ancient than MaricI, nor why, when the goddess is represented with three heads, the one at the left is that of a boar; nor the reason for her chariot being drawn by seven pigs.

In Japan Marici is believed to reside in one of the seven stars forming the constellation of the Great Bear. In India the Aryans may also have identified her with that constellation which they called riksha, Sanskrit word for either 'bear' or 'star'. If that was the case, it is not impossible that the first representations of Marici were made with a bear-support (instead of a boar). As the bear was little known in India the artists may have represented an animal which somewhat resembled a wild boar. The Great Bear itself is not true to nature, having a long tail. In the statues of MaricI from the Magadha, especially the one in the Calcutta Museum, the head which, according to tradition, should resemble a sow, resembles no animal in particulair. If we accept the hypothesis that the original animal associated with Marici was a bear, the representations of which, with time, changed into a boar and sow, the seven pigs that draw her chariot might represent the seven stars of the constellation of the Great Bear.

Marici is evidently the goddess Aurora of the Aryans, for the sadhana refer to her as riding in her chariot surrounded by a glory of flame-shaped rays. Her seven pigs were possibly inspired from the seven horses that draw the chariot of Surya, the Sun God.

When Marici accompanies the green Tara she is always at her right and is called ASokakanta. She is seated on a lotus-throne, which may be supported by a pig, yellow in colour, and her legs are either locked or with the right leg pendent. She has the third eye. In her left hand she carries a branch of the asoka-tvee, and her right is generally in 'charity' muclrd, but may be in 'argument' mudra or holding the vajra. She may, however, be seated on the pig with the right hand in vara and the left in vitarka mudra (PI. xli, fig. a).

She has a yellow form with three heads and eight or sixteen arms. The face at the right is red and the one at the left, a boar's head, is blue; on each face is the third eye. Her attributes are: the thunderbolt, hook, arrow, needle, branch of a&oka, bow, thread, and a hand in mudra with the index raised. Vairocana is in her head-dress. She steps to the right on a chariot drawn by seven pigs, or may be seated on a lotus supported by seven pigs.

According to the sadhana, she is surrounded by the four goddesses:

  1. Vattali (red),
  2. Vadall (yellow),
  3. Varall (white),
  4. Varahamukhl (red).

It is this form that is called 'Vajravarahl', and is represented more often in sculpture than in paintings.

A red form of Marici has three heads and ten arms, and is her most hideous representation. She is corpulent, and brandishes in her ten arms only warlike attributes. In her dishevelled hair is a horse's head, and as she is the consort of Hayagriva it is probably in this form that she is considered his sakti.

According to the sadliana, [23] there is a white Marici with ten arms and four legs, treading on Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva, as well as a red Marici with six heads and twelve arms. In this latter form the first head is red; the second, blue; the third, green; the fourth, yellow; the fifth — on top of the heads — white; and, above this, the sixth, which is a sow's head. She carries practically the same attributes as the other forms, and has, for covering a tiger-skin and wears a long garland of skulls. She is seated on a sow, and is most hideous and terrifying.

The Vajra varahl form of Marici may be a dakini with a sow's head and woman's body, nude, and stepping to the left on a prostrate body. She has a skull crown, the third eye, and wears a long garland of heads and many ornaments. In her left hand is a skull-cup and in her right a chopper. She is usually accompanied by two acolytes.

In Japan Marici is generally represented seated on a lotus-throne supported by seven pigs (PI. xxxix, fig. b). She has three heads, of which the one at the right is a sow's head (while in India it is always placed at the left), and has usually six arms, the original ones holding the thread and needle. Behind her head, instead of a nimbus, is sometimes the eight-spoked Buddhist wheel.

There is a curious Japanese example of Marlcl (PI. xl) holding a caitya. Behind her head are three faces, of which one is a sow's head.



(T.) Lo-ma-gyon-ma (dressed with leaves). Colour: yellow.

Distinctive mark: apron of leaves.

Parnasavari is a follower of Tara, and is specially interesting on account of the apron of leaves that she wears, which, according to Mr. Grunwedel, shows that she was worshipped by the aboriginal tribes of India. One of her names is 'Sarvasavaranam bhagavati', or goddess of all the Savaras (Savar or Saora), [24] and there is still a tribe in Eastern India known by that name.

She is represented turning to the left, but kneeling on her right knee. She is yellow, and has three heads — white, yellow, and red, and although her expression is irritated, she is smiling. In her six hands she holds a thunderbolt, hatchet, arrow, bow, lasso, and a branch of flowers. [25]

In the miniature (PI. lxi, fig. b) she is not represented according to the text. Her colour should be yellow instead of green, and the three heads are white, green, and blue. The apron of leaves is missing, and, instead of the vajra, she holds a sword. Otherwise, the symbols are the same as the above representations.


Ushnisha Vijaya

(lit. Victorious Goddess of the Ushnlsha). [26]

(T.) glsug-tor-rnam-par rgyai-ma (victorious mother with a complete ushnlsha).
(M.) rasuan usnir-tu (she who has a nectar (anointed [27]) head-dress).

Mudra: dharmacakra (turning the Wheel of the Law), or vara (charity).
Symbols: visva-vajra (double thunderbolt), ambrosia cup, small image of Buddha.
Colour: white.

Ushnishavijaya, 'having the intelligence of the most splendid Perfect One', is a very popular goddess in Tibet as well as in Mongolia, and is one of the earliest feminine divinities.

She is always represented seated, her legs closely locked, and with the soles of both feet apparent. She has three heads, of which the one at the right is yellow, the central head is white, and the face to the left is black. They are all, as a rule, sweet in expression, and have the third eye. She has eight arms. The two normal ones either hold a double thunderbolt at her breast, or are in dharmacakra mudra. The ones underneath are either in ' meditation ' mudra, holding an ambrosia vase, or the right is in 'charity' mudra, while the left holds the vase. Of the two upper arms, the hand at the right holds a small figure of Buddha, which may be supported by a lotus-flower, while the left is in abhaya mudra. The other symbols vary, but may be the bow and arrow, lasso, vajra, or one of the hands in abhaya mudra, or with the index raised (PI. xli, figs, b and c).

Her hair is drawn up in a high chignon (ushnlsha) behind the crown, in which may be a small image of Vairocana. Ushnishavijaya is sometimes accompanied by Avalokitesvara at her right and Vajrapani at her left.

In the bronze statues the vase she carries somewhat resembles the ambrosia vase of Amitayus. There are the four ornaments falling from under the cover of the vase, and from the cover itself rises an asoJca branch. The vase, however, is sometimes perfectly plain, and, according to a sddhana translated by Mr. Grunwedel, may be 'crowned by Vairocana's crown'. M. Foucher, in his translation of another sddhana, calls it the 'vase de fortune'.

In Japan her form resembles the Tibetan representation of the goddess, but she is little known.



(Invincible goddess of the White Parasol).

(T.) gdugs-dkar-can-ma (goddess of the white parasol).
(M.) caghan sigurtei (having a white parasol).

Symbol: atapatra (parasol).
Colour: white.

Sitatapatra (lit. white parasol) is one of the titles of Avalokitesvara, according to the sadhana, [28] but there is also a goddess, Sitatapatra, who is looked upon as a form of Tara, and has the rank of Bodhisattva. She may possibly be a feminine manifestation of the god of Misericordia, or the sakti of a special form of the Avalokitesvara.

The goddess Sitatapatra is white in colour and may have three heads (blue, white, and red), or four heads with one at the back. With either form she has eight arms, and the two normal hands hold her special symbol, the parasol, under which she is believed to protect all true believers. (With the right she holds a parasol at her breast, with the left another on her knee.) The other hands hold the wheel, bow, arrow, book, and lasso. She may have the third eye, but her expression is sweet.


Na-ro-mk'ha-spoyd-ma (Dakini)

(Na-ro residing in the heavens).

(S.) Sarva buddhadakini.

Symbols: kapala (skull-cup), grigug (chopper), khatvcunga (magic stick).
Colour: red.

The dakini Na-ro-mk'ha-spyod-ma is patroness of the Saskya sect and an acolyte of the dakini Vajra-varahi. [29]

She is represented stepping to the left on two personages and drinking blood from the skull-cup in her left hand, while the left holds the chopper. She has the third eye, and wears a crown of skulls, a long garland of heads, and many ornaments. She balances the magic stick, the khatmnga, on her left arm. If painted, she is red, and the two personages under her feet are red and blue (PL. LV).


Simhavaktra (dakini)

The lion-headed dakini Simhavaktra is in the suite of Lhamo, whom she follows, carrying a chopper and skull-cup.

When she is represented alone she dances on a personage, and holds, besides the above symbols, a khatvanga. She has a lion's head, her hair is erect, and she wears a crown of skulls. If painted, she is blue with a white head. She may be accompanied by the lion-headed witch Vyaghravaktra and the bear-headed witch Rikshavaktra..



She dances with one foot on a man lying on his back. In her right hand is a vajra and a skull-cup in her left. Under the arm is a khatvanga. She has a third eye, her hair is erect, and she wears many ornaments. The personage under her feet may be missing (PI. xliii, fig. c).


The Panca Dhyani-Buddha Sakti

On the wall of the Vihar of Yama Guti in Cathmandu are, according to Hodgson, high reliefs of the five Sakti of the Dhyani-Buddhas. (See illustration, Sketch of Buddhism, Royal Asiatic Society, vol. ii, PI. in.)

All of the five Sakti are dressed as Bodhisattva with the five-leaved crown, and have the lower limbs in the same position, called by Hodgson the 'Lallitaasana', but the more common term is 'royal ease' (v. Asana). They all hold the right hand in vara mudra, and the left in vitarka pose, except:

  1. Vajradhatvisvari, whose hands are in dharmacakra mudra, like her DhyaniBuddha Vairocana. A lotus-flower at each shoulder supports a flaming pearl in which is the Nepalese yin-yang. Her symbol may also be the triangle (v. trikona).
  2. Locana, sakti of Akshobhya. Her hands in vara and vitarka mudra hold the stalks of lotus-flowers, each of which supports a vajra standing on end.
  3. Mamaki, Sakti of Ratnasambhava, has the same attitude and mudra as above. Both of the lotus-flowers support three peacock feathers.
  4. Pandara, sakti of Amitabha. The lotus-flowers are closed (the utpala) and do not support a symbol (v. Green Tara).
  5. Tara, Sakti of Amoghasiddha; the lotus-flowers support double vajras.




a. Tara b. Tara (Simhanada)
c. Tara d. Tara




a. Aizen-myo-o b. Marici
c. Buddha, Ascetic d. Juntei Kwan-non


Marici (?)


a. Marici b. Ushnishavijaya
c. Ushnishavijaya d. Kwan-non


Plate XLII


a. A Kurukulla b. Kurukulla
c. Dakini

Footnotes and references:


Table of J. Deniker,


v. Glossary.


Das Pantheon des Tschangtscha Hutuktu, p. 91, No. 226.


A plaque, considered to be of the ninth century, however, has been found in Ceylon, on which is inscribed a prayer to the goddess Tara.


Also alleged to have been composed by the first of the seven mythical Dhyani-Buddhas, Vipasyi.


Wen-ch'eng is believed to have brought with her from China the sandal-wood statue of the Buddha, which is now at Lhassa; it is said to begilded.


In the Vibasha Shatter the question is asked, What is it determines the period of day and night in Heaven? The reply is that it is determined 'by the closing of the Padma flower and the opening of the Utpala flower: in the former case, it is night; in the latter, day'. Beal, Catena, p. 78.


Godefroy de Blonay, Materiaux pour servir a l'histoire de la deesse bouddhique Tara, p. 9.


Represented on the walls of the Vihar of Yama Guti in Cathmandu.


There is a green form of Janguli with four arms, and a yellow form with six arms and three heads.


In one of the miniatures in the MS. Add. 1643 in the University Library, Cambridge, she has both legs pendent.


For description of the twenty-one Taras, see Waddell, 'The Indian Buddhist cult of Avalokita and his consort Tara', Tlie Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Jan. 1894.


PI. lxi, fig. a.


Iconographie bouddhique, p. 73.


v. PI. XLII.


A. Toucher, Iconographie bouddhique, vol. ii, p. 89.


It is not impossible that this Japanese legend originated in China, for, according to Yu-kie, who recounted his travels to the Chinese emperor and his court in the beginning of the sixth century a.d., there existed to the north-west, 'about 1,000 li from China, a kingdom of women who took serpents for husbands. These serpents were inoffensive. They remained in holes while the women, their wives, lived in houses and palaces.' Marquis d'Hervey de St. Denis, Memoire sur le pays connu des anciens Chinois sous le nom de Fou-sang.


v. illustration, PI. lviii.


v. Hariti.


Prajna (wisdom), para (farther side), mita (arrived at). The Prajnaparamita is the name of one of the divisions of the sacred books, the Kanjur.


See illustration, Havell, Indian Sculpture and Painting, PI. xiv.


v. Waddell, Lhassa.


A. Foucher, Iconographie bouddhique, vol. ii, p. 96.


Savar means a 'mountaineer' or 'savage'.


Pander, Das Pantliemi des Tschangtscha Hutuktu, p. 80, No. 165.


Ushnisha; v. Glossary.


In the MS. Add. 864 in the University Library, Cambridge, there are several representations of ambrosia being poured over the ushn'isha of the gods.


A. Foucher, Iconograplrie bouddhique, vol. i, p. 110.


v. Marici.

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