Previous Image | Asia Week New York | Next Image

Carlton Rochell Asian Art

circa 1500
Gilt copper alloy
Height: 9 3⁄4 in. (24.8 cm.)

This radiant gilt-bronze image of the highly revered Buddhist divinity, Avalokitesvara, represents a rare form of the bodhisattva.[1] Especially important in Tibet, Avalokitesvara relates closely to the Dalai Lamas. Known to take a variety of appearances to express his great compassion, he is portrayed here at the moment that he developed multiple heads and arms to perceive and aid in the suffering of earthly beings. In this emanation as Ekadasamukha (“eleven-headed”), he has eleven heads, ten of which represent the ten directions [2] and the eleventh, his spiritual father Buddha, Amitabha.[3] The tenth head bears a ferocious and intimidating expression that stands in contrast to the serene countenance depicted on each of the other faces.[4] In the bodhisattva’s eight arms, he holds a variety of attributes including a wheel of Dharma and rosary (now missing) on the right, and bow and arrow, lotus flower and water pot on the left. Avalokitesvara’s primary hands are pressed together in namaskara mudra in front of his chest, and the lower and middle right hands are held in varada mudra, the boon-granting gesture, and vitarka mudra, the gesture of argumentation, respectively.

A sense of balance and harmony are maintained in this intricately detailed sculpture. Beautifully cast by a skilled artist, the bodhisattva is seated in the diamond posture on a single lotus throne. He exudes a strong inner calm and spirituality. Typical of sculpture from the period in Tibet, his limbs appear attenuated yet strong, and he is unclad with the exception of a short dhoti. Incised with a superb foliate motif, the bodhisattva’s garment is fastened below his slightly swollen abdomen by a jeweled belt. Semi-precious stones have been inlaid throughout the figure’s exquisite ornamentation, creating a sense of opulence and import.

Doris Wiener, New York, 1988

[1] It is more common to find standing images of Avalokitesvara in his eleven-headed, eight-armed form. Seated examples of the deity are especially rare. Another seated image depicted in painting is in the collection of The State Hermitage Museum in Leningrad. See Rhie and Thurman (1991), p. 324, no. 128.
[2] In addition to the ten directions, Avalokitesvara’s ten heads also symbolize the ten spiritual strengths, ten stages of enlightenment and ten virtues, all integral concepts of Mahayana Buddhism. See Pal (2003), p. 148.
[3] See Pal (2003), p. 226.
[4] Pal suggests that the tenth ferocious head may represent Avalokitesvara’s angry emanation, Hayagriva. Pal (2003), p. 149.

all text, images Carlton Rochell Asian Art


Previous Image | Asia Week New York | Next Image