Statue of Tara

Found between Trincomalee and Batticaloa, Sri Lanka, AD 700-750

Statue of Tara

Download this video to watch in your favourite media player, or to view this video online please enable javascript.

Using this on a mobile device? Tap the image to watch.
On desktop, requires Flash player or click image to download.


Watch more BSL video descriptions

This image is of the popular Buddhist goddess, Tara, the consort of Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion.


Buddhism arrived in Sri Lanka in about the third century BC and has had a continuous history on the island ever since.  Sri Lanka is today a Theravada Buddhist country, like Burma, Thailand and Cambodia. However, this sculpture, and other Sri Lankan bodhisattva images are clear evidence for the presence in the medieval period of Mahayana Buddhism as well as the Theravada form of the faith.

This image is a fine example of figural bronze-casting using the lost wax process.  Unusually, it is solid cast unlike the majority of bronze images which were cast on a clay core.  This sculpture has also been gilded subsequent to casting.

The flame-like surround to the central cavity in the headdress was doubtless once inlaid with precious stones. The cavity itself probably once contained a small seated image of the Buddha Amitabha who is considered to be the ‘parent’ Buddha for both Avalokiteshvara and Tara. 

The goddess is naked to the waist with a lower garment flowing to her ankles. Her right hand is shown in the position of varadamudra, the gesture of giving while her left hand is empty but may once have held a lotus flower.

This image was for a long time identified as the local goddess Pattini, whose cult is popular in Sri Lanka; however, the identification as Tara is now accepted.

Related products

Book

A History of the World in 100 objects

 
By Neil MacGregor

Accompanies the BBC Radio 4 series


Object details

Height: 143 cm
Width: 44 cm
Depth: 29.5 cm

 

Asia OA 1830.6-12.4

Room 33: Asia

     

    Gift of Sir Robert Brownrigg

    References

    W. Zwalf (ed.), Buddhism: art and faith (London, The British Museum Press, 1985)

    R.E. Fisher, Buddhist art and architecture (London, Thames & Hudson, 1993)

    See this object in our Collection database online

    Further reading

    R. Thapar, The Penguin History of Early India from the Origins to AD 1300 (London, 2002)

    K.M. De Silva, A History of Sri Lanka (Berkeley, 1981)

    R. Coningham et al., ‘The State of Theocracy: Defining an Early Medieval Hinterland in Sri Lanka’, Antiquity, 81 (2007), 699–719