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Deities and Devotion in Mongolian Buddhist Art

Green Tara
20th century
Pigments and gold on sized cloth
26 x 19.8 cm

Hope College Collection, 2017.47.3

Tantric Buddhist doctrine regards the bodhisattva Tara as a female manifestation of buddhahood. She can appear in multiple forms that are differentiated by skin color, physical characteristics and symbolic attributes. Green Tara is considered to be the most dynamic form of Tara. In Mongolia, she was traditionally invoked for protection on a material level against wild animals, fire, flood and theft, and on a spiritual level against anger, jealousy, greed and delusion. She is typically portrayed sitting on a lotus pad with her left leg bent and her right leg slightly extended to symbolize her readiness for action. Her hands are held in open-palm gestures signifying charity and protection, and she holds two blue utpala lotuses to signify her purity and compassion. Her body is richly adorned with gold jewelry and she wears a distinctive conch-shell crown on her head. The opaque green and blue pigments used in this painting may have been made with crushed malachite and azurite, two costly minerals that were thought to imbue paintings with extra spiritual power. 

Reference: Fleming, Zara (ed.). Mongolian Buddhist Art: Masterpieces from the Museums of Mongolia. Volume 1, Parts 1 & 2: Thangkas, Appliqués and Embroideries. Chicago: Serindia Publications, 2011, pp. 608-615; Meinert, Carmen (ed.). Buddha in the Yurt: Buddhist Art from Mongolia, Volumes 1 & 2. Munich: Hirmer Publishers, 2011, pp. 364-377; Lipton, Barbara. Treasures of Tibetan Art: Collections of the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996, pp. 102-104.