lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

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Location: Kolkata, India

Monday, December 25, 2006

Tara! Tara! Tara!

There are several. Women named Tara in mythology, I mean. Tara is also the seat of the Irish kings till the sixth century, but let's stick to mythology. Before we explore that, let's consider the name.

Tara means star, this we all know. It also means the pupil of the eye, some may know. But there are more meanings, I found out, as I consulted my books for this post.

Tara, my Sabda Ratnaakaramu tells me, is a wind instrument; a woman, particularly Brihaspati's wife, Vaali's wife, and the pupil of the eye. CP Brown's dictionary doesn't have the definition wind instrument. My Suryaraayaandhra Nighantuvu has a bit more. It tells me that Tara is a wind instrument, a woman. In the next entry, it elaborates further.

Tara is a pearl I am told; Vaali's wife and Angada's mother; Brihaspati's wife; Buddha Devi; Harischandra's wife, better known as Taramati or Chandramati; a fragrant unguent and the pupil of the eye.

Of the three women mentioned, Buddha Devi is the feminine aspect of Bodhisattva and a major divinity in Tibetan Buddhist mythology.

Tara in Hindu mythology is one of the aspects of the divine feminine principle. Where the Buddhist tradition holds her a gentle goddess, there are praises to Tara as a fierce and fearsome goddess of battle in Hindu traditions. She was worshipped by Shakti cultists and practitioners of the Left Hand Path. She was invoked as the force that transports the worshipper to higher planes of awareness. Taarini, as she who transports and conveys is one of the names sung in her praise.

The other two Taras in Indian epics are both interesting figures. Take Tara, wife of Vaali: some versions of the epic have it that she is one of the celestial women born out of the churning of the Ocean of Milk. She makes her appearance in Ramayana in the Kishkindhya Kaanda.

When Sugreeva challenges Vaali to single combat, Tara advises her husband to befriend Rama, return Sugreeva's wife to him and end his exile. Vaali scorns her advice. When Sugreeva challenges Vaali a second time, she again advises that there might be a ruse, and begs him to make amends. After his death, even in her grief, she is diplomatic. She anticipates the coming events and makes sure that her son is not persecuted. She succeeds in her statesmanship, since Angada is made crown prince.

Later, after the rains have ceased, Sugreeva is still revelling in his regained kingdom and Lakshmana comes bearing an angry message from Rama that the Vaanaras have forgotten their pledge. He is furious at the signs of revelry. Sugreeva sends Tara to defuse his anger, and she does just that.

In Kamba Ramayana, she is portrayed as a chaste widow, but in the Valmiki version, Sugreeva takes her and the other women of Vaali as an appurtenance of the throne. She shares Sugreeva's revels, and is described as being flushed and unsteady with wine as she goes to placate Lakshmana. This clearly shows the changing social mores from the time of the Valmiki's epic to Kamba's version of it.

The other Tara, Brihaspati's wife, I am tempted to describe as the mother of the mother of all battles. She is the original ancestress of the Lunar Dynasty and without her affair with Chandra, there wouldn't be a Mahabharata.

There are no details about this Tara's antecedents. She just appears as Brihaspati's wife. She falls in love with Chandra, who is her husband's disciple. She leaves Brihaspati to live with him. There is outrage all round, as this is transgression on many levels.

Brihaspati sends a message asking her to return, but she refuses to do so. The gods get involved and Chandra is ready to wage war with them all for her.

My Puranic Encyclopaedia states that she is restored to Brihaspati after Brahma's intervention, but she is pregnant by then. Brihaspati and Chandra both claim the child, Budha. Another dispute arises, and the gods ask Tara to name the father. She says the child is Chandra's, so he is raised in Chandra's household.

He is the first of the Lunar Dynasty. He married Ilaa and begat Pururavas, who dallied with Urvashi and begat Ayus and he begat Nahusha and so on and so forth. Budha married the beautiful Ilaa, but she was actually a king called Sudyumna who was under a curse, but that's another story.

Cheers!

7 Comments:

Anonymous Ash said...

Nice post, Lali. But why didn't you elaborate on Chandramati? No mention of Christmas, either.

8:23 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Ash- What, at the cost of my title? :-) It is only in the north that she is known as Taramati, anyhow.

I don't hold with organised religion, and it's an arbitrary date; all calendars are, so what is the point? Lunar or solar cycles to mark time are one thing but days of celebration based on religion are silly. I had better quit before I go into rant mode.

9:38 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To me, Tara is always the O'Hara plantation. And a very bohemian friend who would turn up dead drunk at my doorstep at four in the morning and cook me an excellent lunch the next day to make up for it.

3:34 pm  
Anonymous Prophet of Doom said...

@MIssus Em:

Enlightening .. :-)

Merry Christmas ..

7:15 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

TMM- You know, I thought I'd mention that too, but desisted as it wasn't either history or mythology? And TMM, I know a bit about friends like that too. Cleave such unto you with hoops of steel, I say; they are worth it.

Ram- Hmm, did you read the comments section? Season's greetings to you too, all the same.

10:34 pm  
Anonymous Rajesh said...

Merry Christmas and a happy new year, Auntie Lali. Very educational and all that, but post something light, now.

Liked the 'mother of the mother of' crack.

3:58 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Rajesh- Season's greetings to you, too.

5:01 pm  

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