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Pratapaditya Pal: Roshan Sabavala’s Tryst with Himalayan Art

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Lot 41: Avalokiteshvara
Distemper on cloth
18th or 19th Century
26 ⅜ x 22 ¼ in. (67 x 56.5 cm.)

Painted with a central figure of Avalokiteshvara dressed in elaborate colourful robes and wearing necklaces, bracelets and earrings, shown with eight hands, eleven faces and surrounded by a thousand arms and a red aureole. One pair of hands offers a namaskara greeting, five more hold attributes: a rosary, a lotus flower, the Wheel of the Law, a bow and arrow, and a vase, while the eighth hand is in varadamudra. Radiating in a great arc around the figure are a thousand arms, each hand bearing an eye to symbolise his unhindered capacity to see.

This compelling form of the most widely-revered bodhisattva, Avalokiteshvara embodies unbounded compassion as an all-seeing and all-reaching deity seeking to assist every sentient being to attain nirvana. The eleven heads can be interpreted as corresponding to the eleven points of a mandala (its centre, four cardinal points, four intermediate points, the nadir, and the zenith). They are arranged in five registers. The lowest register displays peaceful countenances; the next three registers present wrathful forms. Amitabha Buddha is the pinnacle. Each head represents an aspect of the compassionate deity, reflecting Avalokiteshvara's ability to meet benign and ferocious powers with comparable strength.

The figure stands on a lotus and the donor figures are visible on the left and right of him.