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BBC Film on Goddess Tara, DhammaWeb NewsBBC Film on Goddess Tara
Tissa Madawela 18-11-2006

Untitled Document

The British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London have commissioned a documentary film for the BBC on the 8th century AD gilded bronze figure of Goddess Tara, now on permanent display in the Asia section of the British Museum. This exquisite piece from Sri Lanka, is considered by the British Museum to be one of the ten best artifacts in their vast collection.

The programme on Tara is one episode of a six part series called "Masterpieces of India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan". This will be premiered on the satellite channel BBC 4 and later distributed through all the major television channels in the world.

The image is of the popular Buddhist goddess, Tara, the consort of Avalokitheshvara, the Bodhisatva of compassion. Although Sri Lanka is a Theravada Buddhist country, like Burma and Thailand, this and other Bodhisatva images are evidence of the presence of Mahayana Buddhism alongside Theravada in Sri Lanka in the medieval period. "This image is one of the finest examples of figural bronze-casting in Asia" said the curator at the Museum Richard Blurton who is also taking part in the film. The documentary also features contributions from the famous British sculptor Anthony Gormley, best known for his colossal statue 'The Angel of the North' and renowned Buddhist scholar Professor Richard Gombrich of Oxford University .

The statue of Tara was found near the ancient Buddhist temple complex of Tiriyaya in Trincomalee, and was given as a gift to the British Museum by British Governor of Ceylon Sir Robert Brownrigg. It is solid cast in one piece and gilded. The eyes and the elaborately arranged hair were doubtless inlaid with precious stones. A small niche in the headdress would have contained a small seated image of the Buddha. The goddess is naked to the waist with a lower garment flowing to her ankles. Tara's right hand is shown in the position of varadamudra, the gesture of giving her left hand is empty but may have held a lotus flower. This image was for a long time wrongly identified as the local goddess Pattini, whose cult is popular in Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan episode of the film is directed by an award winning film maker from Wales, Cristobel Gingell. The cameraman is Colin Skinner and the sound director is Jeff Hawkins. Ester Bernard is the Assistant Producer. The first segment of the documentary was filmed at the Sri Saddatissa International Buddhist Centre in north London with an interview with Ven. Dr. Deegalle Mahinda Thera, Senior Lecturer in the Study of Religion at Bath Spa University. During a four hour long interview, Ven. Dr. Mahinda Thera gave a long and detailed description of the Buddhist perspective on the concept of Godess Tara.

The programme will be shown at the beginning of next year on BBC 4.

BBC Film on Goddess Tara

Tissa Madawela 18-11-2006