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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Statue of Tara (British Museum)

Statue of Tara - British Museum - Joy of Museums

Statue of Tara

This Statue of Tara is a gilt-bronze sculpture of a standing figure of a female deity, created in the 8th century. The goddess’s hour-glass upper body is naked with only a lower garment tied to the hips. Tara’s right hand is shown in the gesture of giving while her left hand is thought to have held a lotus flower. The figure wears a high crown dominated by a hole in the top that was initially created for a large precious stone. The statue is famous because of its artistic history but also because it was made using a  specialised manufacturing process. The figure was created from expensive metals utilising the technique of the lost wax casting in Sri Lanka.

This unique sculpture was taken by force from the last King of Kandy when the British annexed Kandy. The Kingdom of Kandy was an independent monarchy of Sri Lanka, located in the central and eastern portion of the island. It was founded in the late 15th century and endured until the early 19th century. When the British Museum acquired the statue, in the 1830s, they were concerned that the exposed breasts, narrow waist and curvaceous hips would be seen as too erotic for the public, so it was kept out of sight for thirty years, even though the purpose of this statue had always been religious. The main Tārā mantra is the same for Buddhists and Hindus alike, and the literal translation is:

“Oṃ O Tārā, I pray O Tārā, O Swift One, So Be It!”

Tara is known as the “mother of liberation”, and represents the virtues of success and achievements. Tara is also a meditation deity used by some practitioners to understand the teachings of compassion and emptiness.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has the longest continuous history of Buddhism of any predominantly Buddhist nation, with the Buddhist community existed in a mostly unbroken lineage since its introduction in the 2nd century BCE. During periods of decline, the Sri Lankan monastic lineage was revived through contact with Thailand and Burma. Sri Lanka is also a multi-religious country, where Buddhists comprise 70 per cent of the population. Hinduism is the second most prevalent religion and predates Buddhism.

Reflections

  • Considered too erotic for the public, it was kept hidden for thirty years, even though the purpose of this statue had always been religious. Do you feel that this statue is too erotic for religious purposes?
  • The hole in the crown of this statue once held a large precious stone. What colour of precious stone do you think complements this statue?
  • Is Sri Lanka’s long continuous history of Buddhism due to its island geography?

Explore

Statue of Tara

  • Title:                  Statue of Tara
  • Created:          8th century AD – Sri Lanka
  • Materials:       Gilded Bronze
  • Dimensions:  H: 143 cm
  • Museum:      The British Museum

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“All that we are is the result of what we have thought.”
– Gautama Buddha

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Photo Credit: 1) JOM

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