The Mandala Dance of the 21 Praises of Tara

The following article is from the Spring, 1991 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.

Sacred dance has been cultivated as a treasure in the East for millenia. In the early Vajrayana Buddhist monasteries of Orissa (500-700 A.D.) there were large numbers of dancers attached to the temples. The iconography of those ancient temples and the postures of the deities represented on Tibetan thangkas clearly shows their relationship with the classical dance form of Orissa as it is practised today.

Although there is presently no Tibetan tradition of women dancing in the sadhana practices, there is a group of Newari Vajrayana Buddhists who claim their ancestors came from Orissa and to this day use women dancers in the sadhana practices in their temples.

The Mandala Dance of the 21 Praises of Tara is the inspiration of Prema Dasara, a dancer who had studied sacred dance in Orissa and Nepal. Having received the Empowerment of Tara from His Eminence Tai Situ Rinpoche, she felt inspired to express the sadhana in dance form.

When Lama Sonam Tenzin was sent to the island of Maui by the Venerable Kalu Rinpoche in 1983, he realized the need to make the traditional Tibetan Buddhist practices more accessible to his Western students. He asked Prema for assistance and, together with devotional singer Jeff Munoz, they shaped the sadhana of the 21 Praises of Tara so that it could be sung in English.

Prema had studied sacred music and dance in the East for many years. She could easily imagine the Praises danced. With Kalu Rinpoche's blessing and the assistance of Lauryn Galindo, another experienced dancer-practitioner, the ritual began to take form.

When His Eminence returned to the islands, a dance celebration was offered to him by the women practitioners of the island and Prema's children and men dance students. Rinpoche was taken by the Tara Dance and shared his observations and suggestions. He was very moved by the depth of devotion expressed and encouraged Prema to refine the practice and to eventually share it in other parts of the world.

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When Sogyal Rinpoche came to Maui in preparation for the Dzogchen teachings of His Holiness the Dalai Lama the sangha presented a dance offering in his honor. He laughed with delight and proclaimed it an excellent method of communal Dharma practice.

The Venerable Tara Rinpoche, recently on Maui, joyfully proclaimed that the dance and song would bring many people the blessings of Tara. His translator said Rinpoche played the tape non-stop on his tour in Tokyo. The tape is available from Snow Lion (see music section).

Tara, the Saviouress, is the embodiment of wisdom and compassion. Tara vowed to remain in the body of a woman until the end of time, saving beings from the sufferings of conditioned existence. She affirms the dignity of all women and affirms their ability to achieve the highest spiritual perfection. As a being awakenened to her own perfection she is swift to assist any who call out to her, overpowering obstacles and dissolving ignorance. She is a deity of Buddhist Tantra and a potentiality latent within every sentient being. To praise her and embody her is to discover one's own inner perfection.

It is the combination of body, speech and mind, dedicated properly and used skillfully, that empowers a practitioner and uplifts her or his awareness. May all beings be blessed by the Bod- hisattva, the Great Mother, the Protector, Tara.

Prema will be teaching and presenting The Mandala Dance of the 21 Praises of Tara this spring in these locations:

April 14-20, Boulder, CO, The Chenrizig Institute, 303-447-1532

April 21-27, Santa Cruz, CA, Deva Productions, 408-426-9713

May 1-7, Los Angeles, CA, Randal Rain Gray, 213-393-8035

A tour to the east coast in the fall is presently being organized. Contact Prema at: P.O. Box 504, Kula, HI, 96790, 808-878-2843.

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