T r i n l e y D o r j e
Tibetan goddess Agni Tara embodies the transformative element of Fire in all its forms, which the ancients perceived as being of a single nature: fire, lightning, and chi or qi* were considered to be variations of the same cosmic force. In other words She is the spark, the energizing force in the Cosmos, the universal Shakti. As the sacred fire, Her role is that of a messanger between man (or woman) and Eternal Source.
Agni Tara is the patron goddess of warriors, yogis and shamans, tantrikas, lovers and healers, blacksmiths and firemen. In the modern world She is the Protectress from toxic pollution, radiation, or nuclear fallout, as well as the effects of chemical and biological weapons. (The last of those responsibilities She shares with Sri Devi Palden Lhamo.) Because mastery of fire and kundalini promote health and success, Agni Tara is also a wealth and long-life goddess.
The traditional Tibetan Buddhist pantheon of recent centuries has relegated Me-lHa Drolma to the role of a minor (or even obscure) goddess. In the modern world, however, Her importance cannot be underestimated. Agni Tara may well be honored on a par with Green Tara and White Tara in the 21st century. Prayers should be offered abundantly, and Her protection sought in these challenging and unsettling times.
Agni Tara was originally worshipped in Northern & Central Asia, especially by the Tocharians, the Scythians, Yuezhi, Wusun and (possibly) the Sarmatians, She was considered to be consort of the sky god, a form of the Great Mother goddess. The predominant spiritual tradition of this region in ancient times was a tantric shamanism having some elements in common with the cult of Shiva/Shakti.
The ancient city-state of Agni, aka: Yanqi or Yuezhi (a site more recently known as Qarashahar, Karashar or Kashi), lay on the northern track of the Silk Road along the Taklamakan Desert in the westernmost Xinjiang Province of modern China. Situated between Turfan and Kucha, Agni was one of many virtually 'legendary' Eurasian cities on the trade routes between China and the West which were destroyed by the Mongols in the 13th century.
The ancient inhabitants of Agni spoke a somewhat mysterious Indo-European language called Tocharian, specifically Tocharian-A or Kuchean-Agnean --- the oldest of the three known forms of Tocharian --- is affiliated with Agni. It may have been a purely liturgical language, and Tocharian-B was used there as well. Curiously though Tocharian is the most eastern form of Indo-European, it has more in common with the far western Indo-European tongues like Celtic and Teutonic than with all the IE languages inbetween.
Agni Tara was probably brought to the Himalayas through Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan by the Saka people** when a large segment of Saka tribes were driven out of Central Asia by the Xiong-nu (proto-Hun) allies of the Han Dynasty. She was probably imported into India and Tibet under the Kushan dynasty. 'Saka' is the Persian name for the same people which the Greeks referred to as Scythians. A group of Saka people who remained and eventally prospered in Gansu and Inner Mongolia, the Xi Xia (directly related to the Tibetans) were amongst the very first peoples whose cities were destroyed by Ghenghis Khan. The survivors escaped north to Siberia where they are today known as the Yakuts, though they still call themselves Sakha.
Memory of Agni Tara seems to have been lost in India, where the homa fire ritual is symbolized as a male deity, but She survived in Tibet where She was absorbed into the important Tara tradition.
Thus as one of the twenty-one Taras, namely Kalyana-da-tara (Tara, Giver of All Prosperity), also known as Mamgalaloka-tara (Tara of Auspicious Light),*** She was assimilated into the Tibetan pantheon. She is affiliated with the Buddha family of Amitabha. Traditionally Agni Tara is golden yellow, Her canonical ritual being the fire-offering or homa. She may also be depicted with eight arms. Her seed syllable is 'TAM'.
Sometimes Agni Tara is shown with two arms and mounted on a goat, as the goddess of fire in a group of four or five peaceful element-goddesses. This form of Homa Drolma is red in color, symbolizing the cardinal direction West; She holds an akshamala (rosary) and the kalasa (wish-fulfilling treasure vase of amrita, the elixir of immortality). As the elemental Fire goddess, Her seed syllable is 'SAM'.
Phoenix & Arabeth have painted Agni Tara properly in Her original, pure "sky-clad" shamanic form, as She actually appeared in ancient times before being absorbed into the Buddhist pantheon, and became "dressed" with the traditional Indo-Tibetan goddess ornaments. She is appearing to two Eurasian warriors, in answer to their reverence and prayer. The gates of the mandala are guarded by the Celestial Kings of trhe Four Directions, also Tibetan deities of Central Asian origin.
It should be noted that the ancient fire ritual of Agni Tara is shared, in some form or other, by all the ancient religions that have roots in Central Asia, ie. Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Shintoism and Taoism. The Indo-Aryan Hindu tradition has the most elaborate codification of a now masculinized Agni fire ritual.
OM DEY TA TARE TAM SOHA
** Sakyamuni Buddha was a warrior prince of the Saka tribe, the Tibetan Shakya lineage is traced directly from him
*** According to the system of 21 Taras of the Suryagupta School.
goddess of fire
1st sketch, 1993