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The Rubin Research

Women’s History Month: The Powerful and Divine Women in our Art

Every March in the United States, we celebrate Women’s History Month, a dedicated time to reflect on the important contributions and role of women in shaping our society.

Throughout the religious history of the Himalayas and South Asia, women have been revered for their creative and spiritual powers. In Hinduism, the Sanskrit term shakti refers to the all-pervading feminine energy that creates life and animates all existence. Each Hindu goddess represents a personification of shakti in its many manifestations, from loving mother to raging warrior. In Himalayan Buddhism, the feminine also represent wisdom, one of the two aspects required for enlightenment. The other aspect, Compassion, is represented by male deities. When a male and female deity are seen in sexual embrace (Tibetan Yab-Yum), they demonstrate the union of wisdom and compassion.

Through March and beyond, we invite you to reflect on the sculptures and paintings in our galleries that depict powerful female figures from the Himalayas and Buddhist cultures.

Check out a selection below and keep an eye out for them next time you visit the Museum.


Green Tara Tibet; 13th century Brass with inlays of silver Rubin Museum of Art C2005.16.30 (HAR 65453)
Green Tara Tibet; 13th century Brass with inlays of silver Rubin Museum of Art C2005.16.30 (HAR 65453)


One of the most popular deities in the Himalayas, Green Tara sits in the pose of royal ease with her right hand extended in the gesture of supreme generosity. She is a protector and a provider and has her right leg extended so she can get up at anytime and help her followers.


Siddha Lakshmi Nepal; 17th century Gilt copper alloy Rubin Museum of Art C2004.34.4 (HAR 65402)
Siddha Lakshmi Nepal; 17th century Gilt copper alloy Rubin Museum of Art C2004.34.4 (HAR 65402)


In this sculpture, Shiva sits supporting the multi-armed and multi-headed Siddha Lakshmi. In a reversal of traditional gender roles, Siddha Lakshmi acts as a guru while Shiva in turn is her disciple and attempts to understand her ultimate wisdom.


Vajradhara Tibet; 14th century Gilt copper alloy Rubin Museum of Art C2005.16.19 (HAR 65442)
Vajradhara Tibet; 14th century Gilt copper alloy Rubin Museum of Art C2005.16.19 (HAR 65442)


This sculpture depicts Vajradhara in union with his consort Bhagvani; the couple represents the two aspects of enlightenment: compassion (Vajradhara) and wisdom (Bhagvani). Bhagvani also represents Vajradhara’s “shakti” or power; Vajradhara would not be able to achieve enlightenment without her.


Vajrayogini Tibet; 18th century Brass and gilt copper alloy Rubin Museum of Art C2005.16.47 (HAR 65470)
Vajrayogini Tibet; 18th century Brass and gilt copper alloy Rubin Museum of Art C2005.16.47 (HAR 65470)


Considered by many to be the ultimate Tantric Female Buddha, Vajrayogini stands in an active warrior pose with large breasts and wide hips. She tramples two figures under her feet as a visual metaphor for overcoming the ego.


Shri Devi (protector), Dorje Rabtenma Tibet; 15th century Black Stone and pigment Rubin Museum of Art C2006.19.1 (HAR 65601)
Shri Devi (protector), Dorje Rabtenma Tibet; 15th century Black Stone and pigment Rubin Museum of Art C2006.19.1 (HAR 65601)

This sculpture depicts the Indian goddess Shri Devi, whose violent appearance is really a manifestation of her boundless compassion. The arsenal of magical weapons hanging from her mule’s harness include a bag of diseases, and a ball made up of five colored threads, the latter used to bind enemies of the faith.


Architectural detail Guhyakali, Goddess, Hindu Nepal; 17th century Wood Rubin Museum of Art Gift of Ralph Redford C2008.32 (HAR 57015) Architectural detail Guhyakali, Goddess, Hindu Nepal; 17th century Wood Rubin Museum of Art Gift of Ralph Redford C2008.32 (HAR 57015)
Architectural detail Guhyakali, Goddess, Hindu Nepal; 17th century Wood Rubin Museum of Art Gift of Ralph Redford C2008.32 (HAR 57015)


Tantric Goddess Guhyakali is a favorite in Nepal and is known as one of the Eight Mother Goddesses and the Nine Durgas. At the base of the strut, a lotus supports her and her lion mount. Behind her are flowering trees, creating a canopy of blossoms.


Tara Central Tibet; 18th century Pigments on cloth Rubin Museum of Art Gift of Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation F1997.17.7 (HAR 323)
Tara Central Tibet; 18th century Pigments on cloth Rubin Museum of Art Gift of Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation F1997.17.7 (HAR 323)

Green Tara Central Tibet; 14th century Gilt copper alloy Rubin Museum of Art C2003.11.1 (HAR 65209)
Green Tara Central Tibet; 14th century Gilt copper alloy Rubin Museum of Art C2003.11.1 (HAR 65209)


This elegant bronze of Green Tara showcases early Tibetan aesthetics and metal sculpture. Tara is the most prominent Female Buddha of Northern Buddhism and maintains important place on temple and home shrines.


Goddess Marichi Mongolia; late 17th century or early 18th century Gilt copper alloy Rubin Museum of Art C2005.16.26 (HAR 65449)
Goddess Marichi Mongolia; late 17th century or early 18th century Gilt copper alloy Rubin Museum of Art C2005.16.26 (HAR 65449)


The notion of the Goddess Marichi (known as Goddess of the Dawn) is rooted in the metaphor of light overcoming darkness, symbolizing meditation and spiritual practice. This form was one of two attendants accompanying a sculpture of the goddess Tara.


Green Tara Attributed to Choying Dorje (1604-1674) or his workshop Tibet; 17th century Brass with pigments Rubin Museum of Art C2005.16.3a-b (HAR 65425)
Green Tara Attributed to Choying Dorje (1604-1674) or his workshop Tibet; 17th century Brass with pigments Rubin Museum of Art C2005.16.3a-b (HAR 65425)


This sculpture of Tara is attributed to the Tenth Karmapa, Choying Dorje (1604-1674), a unique and eccentric figure within the history of Tibetan art. Notable features include a pair of birds framed in leaves above Tara’s head.


Daughter of the Himalayas Parvati (Uma) Kashmir, India; 10th century Copper alloy with inlays of silver Rubin Museum of Art C2005.16.5 (HAR 65427)
Daughter of the Himalayas Parvati (Uma) Kashmir, India; 10th century Copper alloy with inlays of silver Rubin Museum of Art C2005.16.5 (HAR 65427)

This small metal sculpture comes from the Himalayan region of Kashmir. It depicts Parvati, the daughter of the Himalayan mountains and the wife of the Hindu god Shiva.


Snake Goddess Manasa Northeastern India; ca 12th century Phyllite Rubin Museum of Art C2005.36.2 (HAR 65569)
Snake Goddess Manasa Northeastern India; ca 12th century Phyllite Rubin Museum of Art C2005.36.2 (HAR 65569)

This stone stele depicts the Indian folk goddess Manasa, who is worshiped for her ability to prevent and cure snakebites. She promotes fertility and agricultural prosperity and defends against infectious diseases.


Vajravarahi Bhutan; 18th century Pigments on cloth and silk brocade Rubin Museum of Art C2009.18 (HAR 65858) Exhibitions: * RMA, "Masterworks: Jewels of the Collection" Rotation 2016
Vajravarahi Bhutan; 18th century Pigments on cloth and silk brocade Rubin Museum of Art C2009.18 (HAR 65858) Exhibitions: * RMA, “Masterworks: Jewels of the Collection” Rotation 2016

This painting depicts Tantric deity Vajravarahi, standing in her iconic dancing posture, surrounded by seven yoginis of different colors.


Glorious Goddess, the Queen Who Repels Armies Shri Devi, Magzor Gyalmo Mongolia; 18th century Textile Rubin Museum of Art Gift of Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation F1996.19.1 (HAR 472)
Glorious Goddess, the Queen Who Repels Armies Shri Devi, Magzor Gyalmo Mongolia; 18th century Textile Rubin Museum of Art Gift of Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation F1996.19.1 (HAR 472)

Magzor Gyalmo, Queen Who Repels Armies, is understood to be female protector deity. Fierce in appearance she holds aloft a stick in the right hand and a skullcup to the heart in the left while riding a mule over a pool of blood.


Tara Protecting from the Eight Dangers Eastern Tibet; 18th century Pigments on cloth Rubin Museum of Art Gift of Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation F1997.15.1 (HAR 237)
Tara Protecting from the Eight Dangers Eastern Tibet; 18th century Pigments on cloth Rubin Museum of Art Gift of Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation F1997.15.1 (HAR 237)

In this painting, Tara is protecting humans from the Eight Fears. Each vignette depicts Tara intervening and averting tragedies, such as elephant stampedes and drowning.

Tara Tibet; 19th century Pigments on cloth, silk brocade Rubin Museum of Art C2002.48.1 (HAR 65257)
Tara Tibet; 19th century Pigments on cloth, silk brocade Rubin Museum of Art C2002.48.1 (HAR 65257)

White Tara Tibet; 15th century Brass Rubin Museum of Art C2005.16.34 (HAR 65457)
White Tara Tibet; 15th century Brass Rubin Museum of Art C2005.16.34 (HAR 65457)

Ushnishavijaya tibet; 19th century Gilt copper, cold gold, turquoise and paste jewelry, silk brocade robes Sylvie Sauveniere 83 x 52 x 30 cm L2013.24
Ushnishavijaya tibet; 19th century Gilt copper, cold gold, turquoise and paste jewelry, silk brocade robes Sylvie Sauveniere 83 x 52 x 30 cm L2013.24

Ushnishavijaya is a buddha of longevity in Buddhism. With Amitayus and White Tara, she constitutes the three buddhas of long life.


Learn more about female figures in the Rubin Museum’s collection on a daily Exhibition Highlights Tour.


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