Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Avalokiteshvara (Bodhisattva & Buddhist Deity) - Namka Gyalpo (Gaganaraja)

སྤྱན་རས་གཟིགས། 观音菩萨
(item no. 271)
Origin Location Central Tibet
Date Range 1100 - 1199
Lineages Kadam
Size 50.80x44.45cm (20x17.50in)
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Catalogue # acc.# c2003.50.5
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: Peaceful

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Avalokiteshvara, Ekadasamukha (Tibetan: chen re zi, shal chu chig. English: the Eleven Faced Lord Gazing on the World) according to tradition of the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo.

Peaceful in appearance, with eleven faces rising upward in groups of three, the 10th is wrathful and the face at the top is that of the buddha Amitabha. Each face has two eyes and long black hair flows across the shoulders. With ten hands the first pair are placed at the heart. The four right hands extended to the side are in the mudra of generosity, holding a flower with a Dharma wheel or jewel, an arrow and a flower with Amitabha seated above. The four on the left hold a water flask, a wheel, lasso and flower. Each face is adorned with a crown and earrings. Necklaces and bracelets adorn the neck and limbs and the lower body is wrapped with a skirt. Having the two legs together he stands atop a lotus flower surrounded by a large nimbus and a smaller aureoles about the heads; with two large foot prints on either side.

At the top center is the Buddha Shakyamuni with the five celestial buddhas at the sides. In the left corner is the goddess Prajnaparamita with four hands. Descending at the sides are eight monk like figures.

At the bottom center is the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo with the two wives at the sides. Padmapani Avalokiteshvara is at the left followed by a seated donor figure. On the right is a standing wrathful Achala holding a sword followed by the goddess Tara.

The bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara is the patron deity of Tibet and appears in a variety of forms both peaceful, wrathful and in large mandalas surrounded by numerous deities. As a universal symbol he embodies the compassion of all buddhas of the ten directions and three times. In the standing form with eleven faces there are numerous traditions of practice beginning with King Songtsen Gampo, the famous bhikshuni (nun) of Kashmir, Lakshmi (Tib.: Ani Palmo), who popularized a meditation practice incorporating a 2 day purification and fasting ritual. Lord Atisha, Rinchen Zangpo and others also popularized this type of visual form throughout Tibet.

History from the Mani Kabum: At one time the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara made a promise that should he give rise to thoughts of self benefit may the head break into 10 pieces and the body into 1000. After continuously witnessing the misery of beings in various states of existence, discouraged, he gave rise to thoughts of seeking only his own happiness. At that very instant the head and body shattered. Calling out to Amitabha, the buddha came forth and spoke words of encouragement. Gathering up the 10 pieces of the head Amitabha constructed 10 faces - representing the 10 perfections. Gathering the 1000 pieces of the body he constructed another with 1000 hands each with an eye on the palm - representing the 1000 buddhas of the Golden Aeon. Finally he placed a duplicate of his own head at the crown - illuminating the entire threefold universe.

Jeff Watt 4-2001

Front of Painting
Special Features: (footprints)

Reverse of Painting
Special Features: (Cursive script (Umay), is black, includes "Om Ah Hum" inscription)

Secondary Images
Related Items
Thematic Sets
Buddhist Deity: Avalokiteshvara Main Page
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art: Main Page
Buddhist Deity: Avalokiteshvara (Eleven Faces)
Shakyamuni Buddha: Hands & Footprints
Subject: Footprints & Handprints Main Page
Collection of RMA: Best of Collection 3
Subject: Footprints & Handprints (Footprints Only)
Subject: Hands & Footprints (Buddha)
Painting Style: Indian (11th to 13th century)
Buddhist Deity: Avalokiteshvara (Eleven Faces, Gaganaraja)
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art: Avalokita (Painting)