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Masterpieces of the East: The Tara statue

Updated: May 23, 2020

Bronze statue of the goddess Tara at the British Museum
The Tara Statue at the British Museum

This BBC documentary follows the origins and the legend of the almost life-sized, solid gilded bronze statue of the goddess Tara. This masterpiece that dates from the 7th-8th century AD was forcibly taken from Sri Lanka during the colonial period and currently resides in the British Museum collection.

The statue is one of the finest examples of South Asian art. This image is of the popular Buddhist goddess, Tara, the consort of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion. Buddhism arrived in Sri Lanka in the third century BC and has a continuous history on the island to this day.

The goddess's hour-glass upper body is naked with a lower garment tied to the hips with an almost ankle length hemline. Tara's right hand is shown in the gesture of giving while her left hand is thought to have held a lotus flower, now lost. The figure wears a high crown dominated by a medallion. The hole in the crown is believed to have held a large precious stone. Her eyes and elaborately arranged hair were also once inlaid with precious stones.

Created as an object of worship to inspire devotees of Buddhism, she was made some 1200 years ago in Sri Lanka. The statue is the only known example of this size from the Anuradhapura period that now survives. This film draws together her story, examining her origins and how such a masterpiece was crafted, her original divine function, her discovery and her identity today as a cultural icon in a world museum.

Masterpieces of the East is a BBC arts documentary series which tells the stories behind great works of art broadcast on BBC Two, as a supplement to the series The Private Life of a Masterpiece produced by UK TV production company Fulmar Television & Film.

Filming for this documentary was conducted in the UK and Sri Lanka. Filming locations in Sri Lanka included the Wegiriya Devale, Kandy, Maligavila ancient temple and archeological site, Buduruvagala rock sculptures, the Kelaniya ancient temple and the Mount Lavinia Hotel, Colombo. All filming in Sri Lanka was done by Delon Weerasinghe who was the fixer / local producer and cameraman on this shoot. The Dreamforge also contributed with research and location services.

Masterpieces of the East: The Tara Statue

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