She is beautiful. She is the ‘mother of liberation’. She is Green Tara.
Tara is a Buddhist tantric meditation deity, and she takes many forms. One of the most widely known forms is the Green Tara, who is known as the Buddha of enlightened activity. I do not master the art of meditation, but even an unskilled meditation reveals the power of this Green Tara. She is as beautiful as she is intriguing.
Some people think that beauty matures with age. Looking at the statue, one is inclined to agree. Age and use tends to give depth to physical objects, but in Kathmandu, where the statue was collected, real beauty is not in the physical form, but in the spirit, energy, God, which lives in the object. For the Newar (the once predominant ethnic group in the Kathmandu Valley) Buddhist, the vibrancy of the Green Tara comes not from the tangible form of the carved wood, but from the Godly spirit inside the wood. The spirit that a Buddhist priest has installed in the object in a complicated ritual.
This particular statue was collected by the Danish archaeologist and collector, Werner Jacobsen, in the late 1950s in Kathmandu and shipped back to the ethnographic museum in Aarhus. Jacobsen himself put it on display in the 1970s, celebrating its vibrant beauty and religious power. For a long time, however, the statue has been safely kept in the museum storage room in an acid-free box. But what about the Green Tara herself, who was evidently in the statue, when it was collected? Did she stay behind in Nepal, when the statue was wrapped up and transported away from her birthplace?
As part of a research project, I intend to take her for a visit back home in Nepal, where she will be part of an exhibition on religious continuity and change in Nepal – and the value of (Western) museum collections. The plan is to go through with a ritual, which will apologise to Tara that all the necessary rituals have not been carried out since the 1950s.
The hope is that the Green Tara – and her devotees in Nepal – will appreciate the visit and forgive that she has not been worshipped through this statue for a long time.
//Ulrik Høj Johnsen