Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Avalokiteshvara (Bodhisattva & Buddhist Deity) - Sahasrabhujalokeshvara (11 faces, 1000 Hands)

སྤྱན་རས་གཟིགས། 观音菩萨
(item no. 211)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1400 - 1499
Lineages Buddhist
Size 45.72x38.10cm (18x15in)
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Catalogue # acc.# 1995.28.1
Notes about the Central Figure

Alternate Names: Lokeshvara Avalokita Lokanata Lokanatha Mahakarunika

Classification: Deity

Appearance: Peaceful

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Avalokiteshvara, Sahasrabhuja Ekadashamukha (Tibetan: chen re zi, chag tong, shal chu chig. English: the All Seeing Lord with One Thousand Hands and Eleven Faces) from the tradition of Bhikshuni Shri Lakshmi (Tib.: ge long ma pal mo). (See the Bhikshuni Shri Tradition, Eleven-faces Main Page, Outline Page and Blue Annals: Bhikshuni Shri Mahakarunika Tradition).

The line of lineage of teachers begins at the top left with Avalokiteshvara followed by Bhikshuni Shri the famous female nun (bhikshuni) of Kashmir. The lineage continues with three Indian monks followed by ten Tibetan teachers wearing monastic attire descending in the right register. The inside descending register contains the Eight Great Bodhisattvas. The bodhisattvas are in their typical appearances except for Avalokiteshvara who is depicted in the form known as Simhanada. Simhanada is a special meditational deity from removing all kinds of diseases and poisons. On his proper right side he has a standing trident with a snake wrapped about it. On the left side he holds the stem of a flower blossom supporting a bowl filled with medicinal herbs and a flaming sword. In addition to the symbolic attributes he also rides atop a white lion.

Descending in the left register is Dipamkara Buddha and Maitreya. Together with Shakyamuni Buddha, who is included as one of the Eight Medicine Buddha Brothers, these three figures represent the Buddhas of the Past, Present and Future.

In the inner register at the top left are Prajnaparamita and the Eight Medicine Buddhas: Bhaishajyaguru, Vaidurya Prabha Raja (blue), Ashokattamshri (pink), Suvarnabhadra Vimala (white), Abhijnaraja (pink), Shakyamuni (golden), Suparakirtita Namashri (yellow), Nirghosharaja, Suvarnabhadra Vimala (yellow). The eight buddhas do not have name inscriptions written beneath each and therefore it is not completely clear which buddha is which except for Bhaishajyaraja Prabha.

In the outer register, part way down, is the Five-Deity Amoghapasha in the lower half - outer register: white Avalokiteshvara, red peaceful Amoghapasha, red wrathful Hayagriva, blue wrathful Ekajati and white peaceful Bhrikuti. (See Amoghapasha Main Page, Blue Annals: Amoghapasha History and Outline Page).

In the bottom horizontal register are a row of wrathful deities and protectors. Beginning from the left, the first three are meditational deities: Red Hayagriva, Black Hayagriva and Krodha Vajrapani. These three are special for removing obstacles of all kinds. They are also the meditational deities used to invoke when performing the rituals of the protector deities who are depicted in the same bottom register. Following those are the protector deities: Shadbhuja Mahakala, Shri Devi and five additional retinue figures.

Reading a Painting: Paintings such as this are read and understood first from the large central figure at the center of the painting. With multiple figure compositions incorporating a number of related or unrelated subjects then standard Buddhist hierarchy dictates that the Guru and Guru Lineage is at the top of the composition. The Guru is followed by Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

In this painting a second Avalokiteshvara subject, comprised of five deities, has been added on the viewer's left side in the vertical outer register. Again a unique characteristic of this painting is found in the group of Eight Great Bodhisattvas where the standard figure of Avalokiteshvara is substituted for a non-standard but popular meditational form of the deity known as Simhanada. This was likely done by the artist to add variation rather than simply repeating the generic two armed form of the figure. Avalokiteshvara is already well represented at the center of the composition, the top left corner and then again as the first figure in the group of the Five Deity Amoghapasha. The Simhanada is added as variation - the next most popular form - although never typically seen in the group of Eight Great Bodhisattvas. The bodhisattva Maitreya is depicted twice once in the group of the Eight Great Bodhisattvas in the right hand register and then again on the upper left side placed amongst the Buddha figures. This figure of Maitreya represents the bodhisattva heir apparent - the future Buddha and is in close proximity to Dipamkara the Buddha of the past and Shakyamuni the Buddha of this time period.

Moving further down the composition two monk figures are located at the sides of the lotus throne of Avalokiteshvara. These two figures in the hierarchy represent the Arhats and Pratyekabuddhas of the Hinayana Tradition of Buddhism as understood in Himalayan and Tibetan Buddhism. They represent all arhats and all pratyekabuddhas.

On the lower right side are two deity figures unrelated to the general theme of Avalokiteshvara - the principal subject of the painting. They are Ushnishavijaya a Long-life meditational deity and Vajravidarana a purification meditational deity. These two figures and others of similar function are commonly found in the lower registers or portion of a painting. These types of function, long-life, purification and such, are often auxiliary meditational practices for removing various obstacles such as illness or various types of mental obscurations. Another class of deities with a specific function that are commonly found in the lower portions of a painting are wealth deities such as Jambhala, Vasudhara and Vaishravana. No wealth deities are depicted in this painting.

At the left side of the bottom register are three meditational deities that could easily be placed higher in the composition based on standard hierarchy. The first two are easily identified and the third is likely to be Vajrapani although not conclusively. Here Vajrapani is holding a vajra in the upraised right hand but also holds a long hook in the left hand. This is not standard for Vajrapani. The standing of the three figures in the standard hierarchy is that of meditational deity. Here their status is unchanged and they are placed next to the group of protector deities because they are the special meditational deities when performing the rituals and practices invoking the enlightened and unenlightened, wisdom and worldly, protectors - the last and lowest deities in the Buddhist Tantric hierarchy.

Coloured & Numbered List:
Blue Numbers: Central Figures
A1. Avalokiteshvara, Eleven Faces, One Thousand Hands
A2. Manidharin
A3. Shadakshari
A4. Ratnasmabhava Buddha
A5. Amitabha Buddha (represented on top of the Avalokiteshvara heads)
A6. Vairochana Buddha
A7. Akshobhya Buddha
A8. Amoghasiddhi Buddha

Green Numbers: Lineage Teachers
B1. Avalokiteshvara, Chaturbhuja
B2. Bhikshuni Shri Lakshmi
B3. Indian Teacher
B4. Indian Teacher
B5. Indian Teacher
B6. Tibetan Teacher
B7. Tibetan Teacher
B8. Tibetan Teacher
B9. Tibetan Teacher
B10. Tibetan Teacher
B11. Tibetan Teacher
B12. Tibetan Teacher
B13. Tibetan Teacher
B14. Tibetan Teacher
B15. Tibetan Teacher

Red Numbers: Eight Medicine Buddha Brothers
C1. Prajnaparamita
C2. Medicine Buddha
C3. Medicine Buddha
C4. Medicine Buddha
C5. Medicine Buddha
C6. Medicine Buddha
C7. Medicine Buddha
C8. Medicine Buddha
C9. Medicine Buddha, Vaiduryprabha

Violet Numbers: Eight Great Bodhisattvas
D1. Kshitigarbha, yellow
D2. Akashagarbha, blue
D3. Manjushri, yellow
D4. Samantabhadra, white
D5. Nivarana Vishkambhin, green
D6. Maitreya, yellow
D7. Avalokiteshvara, Simhanada, white
D8. Vajrapani, blue

Purple Numbers: Five Deity Amoghapasha
E1. Avalokiteshvara, white
E2. Amoghapasha, red
E3. Hayagriva, red
E4. Ekajati, blue
E5. Bhrikuti, white

Orange Numbers: Protector Deities
F1. Shadbhuja Mahakala
F2. Shri Devi
F3. Kshetrapala
F4. Jinamitra
F5. Protector figure
F6. Takkiraja
F7. Trakshe

Yellow Numbers: Miscellaneous Figures
G1. Dipamkara Buddha - Past Buddha
G2. Maitreya, Bodhisattva - Future Buddha
G3. Arhat (representing all arhats)
G4. Pratyekabuddha (representing all pratyekabuddhas)
G5. Ushnishavijaya, Long-life
G6. Vajravidarana, Purification
G7. Red Hayagriva, meditational deity - obstacles
G8. Black Hayagriva, meditational deity - obstacles
G9. Vajrapani, meditational deity - obstacles (?)

Jeff Watt 4-2001 [Updated 8-2011]

Front of Painting
English Translation of Inscription: [Name inscriptions for many of the figures]

Reverse of Painting
Special Features: (Printed script (Uchen))

Secondary Images
Related Items
Thematic Sets
Subject: Lineage Paintings Main Page
Tradition: Kagyu Deity Paintings
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art: Painting Gallery 6
Buddhist Deity: Avalokiteshvara Main Page
Tradition: Shangpa Kagyu Main Page
Buddhist Deity: Avalokiteshvara (Eleven Faces)
Buddhist Deity: Avalokiteshvara Lineage Paintings
Buddhist Deity: Avalokiteshvara (Eleven Faces, Lineage)
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art: Avalokita (Painting)
Painting: Styles of Painting
Subject: Composition - Registers
Painting: Composition Types
Buddhist Deity: Avalokiteshvara (Eleven Faces Early Works, Painting)
Subject: Lineage Paintings - Linear