Goddess Tara
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THE GODDESS TARA

The original bronze statue dating back to the 7th or 8th century A.D was found in the north-east of Lanka between Trincomalee and Batticaloa. Its total height is 143.75 cm or 56.6 inches.

Her right hand is in the gesture of vara mudra and her left hand is in the gesture of vitarka mudra. The marked contrast of the slender waist against heavy breasts and hips is the ideal of feminine beauty. The goddess, dignified and graceful in this manifestation, represents the chastity and virtue and the embodiment of love, compassion, and mercy.

The statue has a high head-dress from which a jewel is missing. The statues of the Avalokitesvara have a cameo effigy of the Tathagata (Buddha) Amitabha in the head-dress in a similar location. This may have led to the popular identification of this statue as his consort, the goddess Tara,

Well known Scholar Ananda Coomaraswamy however in his 1914 book on Bronzes from Ceylon identifies the statue as goddess Pattini. This identification is also used by Heinrich Zimmer in The Art of Indian Asia which was completed and edited by Joseph Campbell in 1955,

The statue was taken from Lanka by Sir G. Brownrigg the governor of Ceylon from 1812-1822 who crafted the capture of Kandy against the orders of the British crown. He "gifted" it in 1830 to the British Museum. During World War II, when all the treasures in the British Museum were moved to Wales for safekeeping, British historians categorized this masterpiece as one the hundred best objects.

Goddess Tara
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When I saw the original in 1978 displayed with no protection and little prominence in a back room of the British Museum I could not help but wonder why this National treasure of Lanka should remain prisoner in a cold far off land. On a recent visit in 2000 I saw that it had been polished and was given prominence in the new South Asia Gallery. Does the British Museum however have the moral authority to continue to keep this original treasure which was undoubtedly stolen from Lanka during British Colonial rule. When I spoke with the National Museum in Colombo they had no knowledge that the statue had been polished, and a millennium of patina had been scrubbed away from the goddess of so important Lankan heritage without any consultation. IMHO we Lankans should campaign to have Tara return home to Lanka, like the Greeks are seeking to get back the Elgin Marbles taken from the Parthenon in 1801. See attempt of ethical justification

A copy is on display in the Colombo Museum, Another full size copy can be seen at the Embassy of Sri Lanka in Washington DC. The original statue was insured for a US $5.1 million when it was moved from the British Museum for an exhibition of the UNESCO - Sri Lanka Cultural Triangle project, at the Commonwealth Institute in London in 1981. It is listed as on of the highlighted objects in the British Museum.