Nepal, Kathmandu Valley, Patan
Goddess Tara with Hand in Gesture of Reassurance (Abhayamudra)
15th century

Painted wood
128 x 35.6 x 30.5 cm (50 3/8 x 14 x 12 in.)
Promised Gift of James W. and Marilynn Alsdorf, 230.1997

In Buddhism, the female represents prajna, or insight, without which one cannot achieve enlightenment. Among the most popular female goddesses is Tara, said to have been born from the petals of a lotus (symbol of enlightenment) on a lake of tears shed by her male counterpart, the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. Tara, also a bodhisattva, is the compassionate savior-goddess. She can appear in more than a dozen forms, which bear different attributes and are distinguished by their respective colors. Tara is usually depicted holding a lotus blossom, relating to the story of her birth.

In this painted wood statue from Nepal, Tara stands in a graceful posture, raising her right hand in the mudra of reassurance. Originally, this statue would have stood in a temple and been periodically adorned with garments and ornaments that embellished its carved skirt and earrings. The facial features are typical of the wood-carved statues created in the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal in the 14th century. The distinctive shape of the head and face of this sculpture and other carved-wood portrayals of Tara from this region suggests that they are all products of a single workshop.