The voices of devotees who have sought the help of Tara (Tib: Drolma) flow through the centuries in numerous hymns and prayers that keep the image of the Buddhist goddess alive and inspiring. One of the most popular prayers dedicated to the savior Tara is “Twenty-One Verses of Homage to Tara” from the Words of the Buddha, a selection of teachings by the Buddha himself, many of which feature in the Kangyur, the Tibetan canonical collection.*
The praise gives origin to a special group of Tara’s forms, known as the Twenty-one Taras (Tib: Drolma Nyerchig). They are related to the Kriya Tantra of the Twenty-One Praises to Tara, spoken by the primordial buddha Samantabhadra. A system of practice with different forms of Tara arises from this tantra manual. Each of the forms has a specific name, mantra, color, and accomplishes a specific activity.
The extraordinary popularity of this group of 21 Taras is based on the belief that they encompass all the saving activities of the goddess, whose emanations and powers are infinite. The benefits of the prayer are numerous. At the conventional level, it protects against disease and pain caused by poisons, animals, ghosts, and evil eyes. The prayer also purifies sins, prevents the experience of suffering in the lower realms, removes various obstacles, and provides prosperity and happiness in the present and in future rebirths. It helps with procreation to give birth to children and provides for followers to maintain the Dharma tradition. On an absolute level, the recitation of this prayer helps the practitioner attain supreme enlightenment.
Based on that original tantric manual, there are three distinct lineages of interpretation: of the ninth century Kashmiri pandit Suryagupta, of the Bengali scholar Atisha (982–1054), and of the Tibetan teacher Longchenpa (1308–64). In the various Tibetan traditions, there is no universal way in which the names of the various Taras are categorized, or order in which they appear, nor for the description of their qualities and abilities. What distinguishes her various shapes is usually her body color. Artistic interpretations of the group of 21 Taras are numerous. They can be seen as individual images or in group compositions with one central figure.
In Atisha’s system, all Taras appear in seated poses with identical faces and hands. The only difference between them is the color of their bodies and the objects they hold in their left hands. Their colors are associated with the four enlightened activities (Tib: le shyi): pacifying (white), enriching (yellow), magnetizing (red), and subjugating (black). Mixed colors, such as orange, show a combination of different activities.
The 13 emanations of Tara in the system of Atisha are named Drolma Yullay Gyaljema (Skt. Tārā Ripu Cakra Vināśinī; She Who Gains Victory Over War). She is a wrathful form of Tara, who protects from war and other obstacles with or without form, and destroys the hosts of enemies. Her mantra is Om Tare Tuttare Ture Vajra Dzawala Phat Phat Raksha Raksha Svaha.
The lines of the “Twenty-One Verses of Homage to Tara” related to the figure of Drolma Yullay Gyaljema are:
CHAKTSAL KALPA TAMÉ MÉ TAR
Homage to you, seated in a halo
BARWÉ TRENGWÉ Ü NA NÉ MA
Blazing with apocalyptic flames.
YÉ KYANG YÖN KUM KÜNNÉ KOR GÉ
Your right leg stretched out and left bent inward,
DRA YI PUNG NI NAMPAR JOM MA
Immersed in joy, you crush legions of foes.*
Drolma Yullay Gyaljema is red in color, with three eyes and a wrathful expression. Her left hand is in the vitarka mudra, symbolizing the Dharma teaching, and holding the stem of an utpala flower or blue lotus. On the flower is a vertical flaming vajra with open prongs. Her right hand is in the varada mudra, the gesture of generosity and giving blessings. She is sitting in lalitasana, the “royal pose,” upon a lotus disc.
On 24 February, the Buddhist teacher, author, and founder of the Tara Mandala, a retreat center in southwest Colorado, Lama Tsultrim Allione began a campaign in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, recommending accumulation of the mantra of Yulle Gyaljema.** On 6 March, she gave an online transmission of the mantra of Tara who gains victory over war and has led a practice with the female deity. According to the instructions of Lama Tsultrim Allione, Yulle Gyaljema is dark red, emanating love and compassion for all. She has transmitted the following visualization:
From body of Yulle Gyljema and from the open vajra on the utpala flower come flames and countless little vajras. They go to the place of conflict in Ukraine and cause war to come to an end. And everyone is joyful. Then all the vajras return and make a shield of protection creating a vajra tent around you.
* Praises to the Twenty-One Tārās (Lotsawa House)
** Prayers for Peace: Spiritual Leaders and Communities Respond to the Humanitarian Crisis in Ukraine (BDG)
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