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Digital Thanka of Sitātapatra Bodhisattva, commissioned by Tsem Tulku Rinpoche of Kechara in Malaysia

Sitātapatra, ("White Parasol" in Sanskrit), is a Buddhist protector against supernatural danger. She is venerated in both the Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhist traditions; in the latter she is also known as Dukkar or Dugkarmo ("Readiness"). Her origin was in India, where a male Hindu deity of that name was venerated prior to the 7th century BCE. His gender was shifted to female within the next 100 years, as goddess worship became more popular in India. Due to these complex indigenous origins, Sitātapatra's absorption into Buddhism resulted in multiple ascriptions and traditions associated with her as a goddess, a bodhisattva and a buddha. Amitābha Buddhists, also known as Pure Land Buddhists, believe that anyone who regularly recites her mantra of “Hum ma ma hum ni svaha” will be reborn in Sukhāvatī, Amitābha Buddha's Western Pure Land or Land of Bliss -- and, while still living, will be protected against all supernatural dangers and forms of harmful witchcraft. A longer prayer to her, the Śūraṅgama sutra, is used as a sadhana, or spiritual practice, when calling on her to heal illness, dispel obstructions, defeat possession by evil spirits, destroy black magic, conquer disasters, and bring success and prosperity. As an emanation of Amitabha Buddha, she can increase the length of one's life, cure any illness, and end troubles caused by ghosts in dreams and in waking life. Buddhists who follow the traditions of the 6th century BCE Gautama Buddha Shakyamuni say that she sprang forth from Gautama's head while he was in samadhi, a meditative state, and journeying in the Trāyastriṃśa, the Heaven of the Thirty-Three Devas or deities. At the time of this manifestation, it is said that Gautama Buddha proclaimed that her task is to completely cut apart all malevolent entities, to break the negative spells of others, and to turn aside all enemies, dangers, and hatred. In the Mahayana Sitātapatrā Sutra, she is said to be Aparājita ("unconquerable") and is recognized as an emanation of the goddess Tārā. In other sutras she is said to be a female counterpart to Avalokiteśvara, the bodhisattva of compassion.

The customs associated with Sitātapatrā are deemed to be formidable methods to conquer obstacles. She is invoked to protect practitioners against catastrophes, wicked beings, evil influences, and corruption. The recitation of her mantra can even alter the weather. In written form it is may be worn in a protective talisman or incorporated as a holy object within a stupa, or Buddhist reliquary shrine. The veneration of Sitātapatrā varies widely and may include fire offerings, tiered offerings of grain or precious stones, the building of protective circles, and torma offerings, which are figures typically made of barley flour and butter. Before the beginning of the Lunar New Year, in an effort to remove obstacles for the coming year, Vajrayana Buddhists conduct a three-day Sitātapatrā puja ceremony. On the first day of the puja, the ritual leader positions the offerings. The primary torma, a white torma with colorful adornments and Sitātapatrā's image on top, represents Sitātapatra, her entourage, and palace. Additional offerings are traditionally set as they would be for a peaceful deity. A second table is used to receive and remove invoked obstacles. Placed beside the primary table, it bears a wrathful torma and offerings for wrathful deities. On the last day of the puja, the second table is burned.

Sitātapatrā is depicted as radiantly white in color, exuding love and compassion, and her body is ornamented with hundreds of precious jewels. Her gentle and beautiful form contradicts her ferocity, as she is described as a savage, terrifying goddess, wreathed in flames, who pulverizes the enemies and demons who afflict those who call upon her. She can be portrayed conventionally, with one face and two arms, with three to five faces and six to ten arms, or with 1,000 heads, 1,000 arms, 1,000 legs and 1,000,000 eyes. She may bear a variety of weapons, and religious objects, and hold aloft a white parasol. Dressed in celestial garments with numerous layers of skirts, she commandingly protects all ethereal and sentient beings beneath her dais.


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