Tara is the second of the Mahavidyas, representing the Eternal Word.
Like Kali, Tara’s ferocious form is enough to startle one in sadhana. She too stands upon the supine, corpse-like Shiva, and is often shown to wear a garland of human skulls and with a tongue that lolls out of her great, blood-stained mouth. Unlike Mother Kali who is black, Tara is dark blue representing limitless space; she wears an animal skin instead of human arms and in her four hands she carries a sword, a pair of scissors, a human cranium and a lotus. The weapons symbolize the destruction of the ego while the lotus promises unconditional protection. While Kali’s hair is wild and disheveled, Tara’s is tied in a single topknot, representing one-pointedness and austerity. Her big belly represents her hunger for selflessness and the blood dripping down her sword represents the cutting off of all doership, freeing her devotee of samsara.
A beloved ritual of aghoris (fearless tantrics) is to practice at the stroke of midnight in a lonely crematorium surrounded by pyres burning lifeless bodies. Sitting naked in this lonely place, the aghori performs his/her rituals for one sight of beloved Mother Tara, known in this form as Smashan Tara (smashan = crematorium). Invoked thus, she is said to appear dancing upon a burning corpse with one foot upon the its heart (representing desire, the root of the birth-death cycle) and the other upon its legs (representing worldly ambition driven by greed, hatred, jealousy and selfishness). Manifesting thus, she takes it upon herself to school the aghori for the rest of their life and sadhana, setting him/her upon her cosmic lap and taking care of his/her every need. The test of strength for the aghori is to adore this ferocious and powerful form of the Divine Mother without a shred of fear or repulsion.
Tara is known in three different forms – Ugra (ferocious) Tara, as described above and very similar to Kali, Nila Saraswati (blue Goddess of knowledge) and Ekajata. The word “tara” has several meanings, one of which means “to cross”. She is the vehicle for crossing over from ordinary consciousness to super-consciousness, from the mundane to the spiritual, from the ordinary to the extraordinary. However, this crossing is not one-way; she is the vehicle for crossing back from self-realization into living fully in the world. She facilitates both the ascent as well as the descent of Kundalini in yogic and tantric sadhana. Another meaning for “tara” is star. Thus, she acts as a beacon on a dark night, guiding the lost soul to herself. While known as the goddess of protection, Tara represents another seemingly disparate concept – knowledge. She is closely associated with the power of speech, and this is how she is hailed as the second of the Mahavidyas.
The first movement of creation is a stir, a vibration or a throb. This primordial throb begins a series of vibrations that take the form of sound, the precursor of all objects. This primordial throb or vibration is represented by the sound “Om” or “Aum” and is known as the Eternal Word or “nithya vak”(John 1:1 – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”). It is this primoridal throb that yogis aspire to reach in perfect stillness. Knowing this and resting in direct and continual submission to this, all desires find root in it and the separate self is seen through. Sense organs return to their origin as do the organs of action; in time the egoic doer is destroyed and actions arise directly from this primordial throb. Unhindered by the ego’s demands, Shiva and Shakti come together and flow through the sadhaka’s being, creating and manifesting in divine harmony. Tara is this primordial throb, and she as Om is the vehicle for “crossing over”. As Om, she is Nila Saraswati, the blue goddess of knowledge that bestows the true understanding of this sound and taking the aspirant beyond the shackles of worldly existence. Nearly all mantras begin with Om; thus is Mother Tara revered and worshiped in many great faiths and religions.
Some schools describe Tara as appearing to be white, blue or multi-colored. White Tara represents the primordial throb in its pristine form. Her blue form symbolizes her descent from her white purity into creation, while her multi-colored form signifies her infinite forms that make up all of the cosmos – the good, the bad and the ugly. She is all, in and through all. As Ekajata (“single mat/braid of hair”), she represents the single force of creation behind its myriad forms.
Mother Tara appears in yogic sadhana first as the awareness of the sound of “Om”. This sound is truly indescribable. A vibration arising from the depths of the being, it is most akin to the sound made by the strings of the Veena. When it first arose in my awareness many years ago, it was at once disconcerting and miraculous – a loud, continuous hum that persisted through wakefulness and sleep, a form of ajapa japa. In silent meditation, it would roar through the body; it would seem that all the cells were vibrating in tune with this soundless sound. It dominated the contents of the mind, forcing its way into the thought stream to silence the mind noise and throwing out waves of joyful ecstasy. Eventually, one does get used to this sound that comes to underlie even the most hectic activity, and the humming gets woven into the fabric of daily life.
Tara is known for her benevolence – one need only ask and she readily provides. So great is her compassion that it is said she is one of the easiest Mahavidyas to connect with. Her sadhana therefore is relatively easy. She shies away from insincerity and dishonesty. She adores the devotee that remains rooted in speaking the truth, who keeps his/her mind guarded against jealousy, greed and hatred and is equally unaffected by praise or blame.
Tara’s bija (seed) mantra is Om. Adoring this great Mother thus, the sadhaka of the Mahavidyas traverses to the next phase of sadhana symbolized by the radiant form of Tripurasundari.
(Image: Uploaded by Dhruvjeet Roy. Source: Wikipedia)