About the Artwork

This composition is based upon the famous late 13th century thangka painting of Green Tara in the Cleveland Museum of Art in Ohio, which some art historians now attribute to the work of a brilliant Newar artist named Arniko. At the age of seventeen Arniko brought a group of about eighty Newar artists from Nepal into Tibet to work for the Sakya master Phagpa - the teacher of Kublai Khan, the Mongolian Emperor of China, who later became Arniko's lifelong patron. In this modern copy by Sukha Raj, only the central section of the 'Cleveland Green Tara's' ornate torana or backrest is depicted, whereas the original thangka includes a complex outer torana that takes the form of a temple amidst a sacred grove of trees.

Green Tara sits in her traditional posture of royal-ease upon a white moon disc, which rests upon a multicolored double-lotus above an 'elephant-lion' (gaja-simha) throne. The façade panels of this throne display the stylized heads of four blue lions and three green elephants, with the stem of a lotus arising beneath the central panel to serve as a footrest for Tara's lowered right foot.

Two ornate pillars ascend from either side of her throne, which contain vignettes of the eight aspects of Tara as the liberator from the 'Eight Great Fears'. These are the fears of: fire (anger); drowning (attachment); lions (pride); elephants (ignorance); imprisonment (greed); snakes (jealousy); demons (doubt), and thieves (false views). Ascending from the capitals of the pillars is a cinquefoil arch decorated with pearls and checkered motifs. The red area inside this arch and its pillars defines the shape of Tara's outer aura, with a 'six-fold enlightenment throne' surrounding the patterned backrest that defines her inner aura. Two elephants guard the bottom of her backrest, with mythical blue creatures known as 'sharabhas' standing upon their backs. The horns of each sharabha support the ends of a jeweled crest-bar, upon which squat two fierce makaras or 'water-monsters' with fabulously scrolling tails, and above them is the crowning serpent-devouring head of Cheppu or Kirtimukha. Tara's halo is horseshoe-shaped and colored like a rainbow.

With the outstretched palm of her right hand Tara makes the combined gesture of supreme generosity and protection, while beneath her palm sits a devotee wearing a yellow garment. With her left hand held in front of her heart she makes the protective gesture of giving refuge, with the tips of her thumb and third finger touching to form a circle, and her other three fingers extended to represent the 'Three Jewels'. The curved stem of a lotus arcs gently above the diamond-shaped lines on her palm, before curving upwards to terminate in a stylized leaf, bud, and a fully opened blue lotus. This lotus blossoms into many petals at the level of her left shoulder, with a similar blue lotus ascending from behind her hip to blossom at her right shoulder.

The background area of this painting is decorated with an overall pattern of swirling blue roundels, where the 'Eight Auspicious Symbols' and the 'Three Jewels' are depicted.The Three Jewels of the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha are represented by blue Akshobhya at the top center (Buddha), the four-armed yellow wisdom goddess Prajnaparamita to the left (Dharma), and four-armed white Avalokiteshvara to the right (Sangha).

© text by Robert Beer

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