Mother Tara is the second Mahavidya (Wisdom Goddess). She is worshipped in the Vajrayana sect of Tibetan Buddhism also. Tara in Sanskrit means star. Stars give light even when the sun and moon are unable to. When all hope fades than Ma Tara steps forward to help. Tara also comes from the root word Taaranaa (derived from the Sanskrit seed “tri” which means crossing), meaning to cross over or take to the other side. In the language of spirituality this world (samsara), is treated like a body of water, an ocean. “Taarayati Sa Eva Tara” - the one who takes you away from all worldly problems, or the one who takes you from ordinary consciousness to super-consciousness and liberates, is Tara. She is thus “Samsara Taarini”. She is also referred to as Neela Sarawati (blue Saraswati) and is the Devi of knowledge, taking people out of ignorance “Tamasoma Jyotir Gamaya”. Tara uses the energy of knowledge – jnana shakti – to help us cross the murky waters of Samsara. .Initiating young children in Tara sadhana is the best way to make them intelligent, wise and knowledgeable.
Ma Tara is depicted as blue in color, clad in tiger skin, with a jutting out tongue, hair tangled and sticking out, standing with one leg on the supine body of Shiva and holding a scissor, a blue lotus, a sword and a skull bowl in each of her four hands. She looks very similar to Ma Kali with a few important differences. She is blue while Ma Kali is black, she wears a tiger skin while Ma Kali does not and she holds a scissor and a blue lotus in two of her hands while Ma Kali does not. While Kali is the power that averts and destroys any adversity, Tara is the power that sublimates all negativity almost instantly. She is the power that allows us to transcend everything inferior in our lives. The scissors symbolize logical reasoning power and with this she cuts off the mistaken identity and samskaras (mental impressions/predispositions to react and behave in a particular way) removing the mistaken identity that defines, limits, and binds.
Nobody can defeat anyone blessed by Ma Tara in an argument/debate of any kind! As the Goddess of speech she is closely connected to our breath that manifests as sound. Tara is the subtle, most powerful energy of the unmanifested sound that transcends everything created. Tara is thus the unmanifested speech in breath and consciousness. As the primordial vibration of Om she is Nila Sarawati, the blue goddess of knowledge who takes the sadhak beyond the shackles of this physical existence. She ensures a fast access to elevated levels of spiritual knowledge. The sword in her hand has an eye and symbolizes the wise use of power. The blue lotus symbolizes fire with which she is closely associated.
Ma Tara was first invoked and manifested by Muni Vasishta. She was subsequently prayed to and manifested by the Sapta Rishis (the Seven Great Seers, mind born sons of Brahma – Bharadwaja, Gautama, Atri, Jamadagni, Kashyapa, Vasishta and Vishvamitra). She appeared for the first time in Bengal at a place called Veera Bhoomi near Calcutta. The railway station here is Rampurghat. Tarapith is located here. One of the most famous devotees of Ma Tara was Sadhak Bamakepha. Bamakepha dedicated his entire life to the worship of Ma Tara. Lord Ram and Hanumanji are also devotees of Ma Tara.
Ma Tara takes three forms – Ekajata, Nila Sarawati and Ugra Tara. Nila means blue and signifies the bright sky, hence as Nila she takes us away from darkness. In the form of Ugra Tara she is a very fierce deity.
During the “Samudra Manthan” (the time of churning of the ocean of milk), when the Devas (Gods) and Asuras (demons) were churning the ocean for amrit (nectar of immortality) a lethal poison called Halahal emerged first. The poison was so lethal it could destroy the entire creation. Terrified the Devas and Asuras prayed to Lord Shiva for help. Shiva consumed the poison but it was so lethal that it caused even him immense suffering and he couldn’t hold it any more. He prayed to the Divine Mother. She appeared in the form of Ma Tara and turned Lord Shiva into an infant. Cradling the infant form of Shiva in her lap she fed him milk from her left breast and sucked the poison out. The nectar she fed him completely neutralized the poison and Shiva recovered. However it did cause the left side of Ma Tara’s face to turn reddish. This is why the left half of Ma Tara’s face is a slightly different color than her right side. It has a reddish tinge from the effects of the poison. That shakti which can pacify even Halahal is Mahavidya Tara.
Mother Tara resides in cemeteries and cremation grounds. One of the names for her in her sahasranamavalli (thousand and eight hymn) is Shamshana Bhairavi (shamshana means cremation/burial grounds.) She is strongly associated with fire especially the fires of the cremation grounds. What this signifies is that since everyone has to go through cemetery/cremation grounds at the end, where she is present, only she can really liberate them. Ma Tara gives liberation in cemeteries. In other words Ma Tara is that form of Divine Mother who helps people in their last moments.
Ma Tara is “Svarna Pradati Devi” (one who gives gold), “Mukti Dayini” (one who liberates) and “Vijaya Pradayini” (one who bestows victory). Siddhi of “Apsara sadhana” (the spiritual practice to get all kinds of worldly name, fame, success and growth in life) is attained through Ma Tara. Her worship is prescribed for those seeking abundant gold and money in life. Ma Tara’s sadhana also awakens the kundalini and facilitates both its ascent and descent.
Her most famous temple is Tarapeeth located in the Birbhum district of rural Bengal. When Shiva held the dead body of his beloved wife Sati in his hands and danced the deadly destructive “tandava” in anger, Vishnu set out his Sudarshan chakra to cut the body, which fell down at 108 places. Each place where a part of Sati’s body fell is a powerful shakti peetha. Sati’s third eye is said to have fallen down here and it is one of the 108 shakti peethas. The color blue is predominantly used in Ma Tara’s worship. She is pleased with offerings of blue and red flowers.