Sitatapatra: Goddess of Protection from Evil Forces

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Sitatapatra: Goddess of Protection from Evil Forces

Sitatapatra with one face and two hands. From liveinternet.ru

Sitatapatra (Tib. Dugkarmo) is a goddess of protection from supernatural dangers such as demons and any other harmful influences. Her name means “White Parasol” and she is perceived as a wrathful aspect of the bodhisattva of compassion Avalokiteshvara (Tib. Chenrezig). As an embodiment of one of the Twenty-one Taras, she is known as “Sitatapatra, removing conflicts and bad dreams” (Tib. Tsodpa Dang Milam Nganpa Selwe Dugkar).

The goddess is a Mahayana version of female deities of early Buddhism, that were worshiped as protectors of royal power. They are called “goddesses of the parasol” and are mentioned in Muga Pakha Jataka.

In Indian culture, the white parasol symbolizes kingship and divinity, and in Buddhism – the supreme spiritual power of the Buddha. It is believed that as the parasol protects against the burning sun, so these goddesses protect the royal rulers. This symbolism, however, is not connected with the legend of the origin of Sitatapatra. It focuses on another moment that resembles the origin of the goddess Ushnishavijaya (Tib. Tsugtor Nampar Gyalma).

Sitatapatra with 1000 faces and 1000 hands. From theyoginiproject.org

From the Trayatrimsa heaven, Buddha emanated light from his ushnisha – the oval at the top of his head which symbolises the attainment of enlightenment. The light materialized in the syllables of the goddess’s mantra, and then in the goddess herself. This legend also explains her full name, Ushnisha Sitatapatra (Tib. Tsugtor Dugkar), which expresses her nature, combining the protective power and the luminosity of the supreme spiritual achievement.

From the Trayatrimsa heaven, Buddha emanated light from his ushnisha – the oval at the top of his head which symbolises the attainment of enlightenment. The light materialized in the syllables of the goddess’s mantra, and then in the goddess herself. This legend also explains her full name, Ushnisha Sitatapatra (Tib. Tsugtor Dugkar), which expresses her nature, combining the protective power and the luminosity of the supreme spiritual achievement.

The goddess is also called Sitatapatra Aparajita or the “Invincible White Parasol.” This name shows her connection with the Hindu goddess Aparajita (form of Durga), one of whose symbols is also the white parasol. The function of the two goddesses is identical. Similar to Sitatapatra, Aparajita also defends against evil forces and supernatural beings that, as a result of the ignorance and selfishness.

Sitatapatra became popular in Tibet and her practice is implemented in all schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Different Tibetan institutions perform elaborated rituals with the goddess, especially at special needs.

Sitatapatra with 1000 faces and 1000 hands. From twitter.com

The goddess has different iconographic manifestations. Her body is white in color – a symbol of the light radiated from Buddha’s ushnisha. She has one or three faces and two hands. The right hand is on her knee holding the wheel of Dharma – a symbol of the truth as ultimate protection or in varada mudra (the gesture of generosity). Her left hand is lifted up in front of her heart and holds a white parasol.

Less common are images with six or eight hands in which the goddess holds different attributes: the wheel of Dharma, vajra, bow and arrow, sword, lasso, umbrella and flag of victory. Her most popular form is with thousands of faces, hands, and feet. This iconographic style, typical for the Indian and later for the Tibetan art is called the “universal form.” It expresses the omnipotent power of the deity and its infinite forces of a savior. Each of the thousand hands of the goddess has eyes and sometimes the feet and the whole body as well. They symbolize her all-seeing wisdom. In the central hands she holds her most important attributes – the parasol and the wheel of Dharma. In this iconographic form, her body is in standing position, stepping on different evil forces which symbolize the victory over them.

Sitatapatra is a complex figure reflecting the characteristics of Indian and Tibetan Buddhism as well as other cultural phenomena in India. Despite the wrathful nature of her protective functions, the goddess is depicted in a peaceful form with signs of a delicate femininity. The combination of protective power and the signs of Buddha’s enlightenment in her nature made her a powerful defender against all evils and one of the most popular Mahayana goddesses.

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