Himalayan Art Resources

Buddhist Deity: Avalokiteshvara, Pagpa Lokeshvara (4 & 108 Temples)

Avalokiteshvara, Standing

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Description (Below)
- Painting
- Sculpture
- Rato Macchendranath
- Seto Macchendranath
- Kyirong Sculpture
- Potala, Lhasa, Sculpture
- Red Avalokiteshvara
- Masterworks
- Confusions
- Others...

Avalokiteshvara, Arya Lokeshvara (Tibetan: pag pa chen re zi. English: the Noble All Seeing Lord). There are many versions of this sculpture in wood, ivory and metal found in both temples and art collections around the world. Only the wood figures are considered of possible early origin created during the middle of the first millennium. There were three subjects of sculpture created from sandalwood to function as land taming religious objects for the important geomantic points in Tibetan geography. The first object was of an Eleven Faced Thousand-armed Lokeshvara. The second was a set of four Lokeshvara with two situated in Nepal and two in Tibet. The third group are two sets of 108 smaller Lokeshvara statues to fill the one hundred and eight land taming temples of Tibet built by King Songtsen Gampo (7th century).

The 'self created' Eleven Faced Lokeshvara formerly resided in the Lhasa Cathedral (Jokang). It may still reside there. The locations of the four Pagpa Lokeshvara are also known. The locations of all of the 216 smaller Lokeshvara are not currently known. It is however possible that some of the sandalwood sculpture below are original to the time of Songtsen Gampo. The metal cast and ivory sculpture are copies and do not belong to the origin myth of the original two hundred and twenty-one Pagpa Lokeshvara sculptures.

The Source of the Original Khasarpani Pagpa Lokeshvara Sculpture of Tibet & the 108 Demon Subduing Temples:

The Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo (7th century) believed that the country of Tibet was like a supine demoness. To subdue the demoness and pacify the country it was necessary to build 108 temples at key geographical locations. Lhasa was at the center. Songtsen Gampo had a vision of three sacred sandalwood trees that would serve as the medium for the sacred sculptures that would be housed by the 108 demon subduing temples.

From the most sacred tree Songtsen Gampo acquired an image of the Eleven Faced Lokeshvara in an iconographic form later to be known as the King's Tradition (Gyalpo lug). This sculpture was installed in Lhasa, Tibet, in a temple on the Marpori (Red Mountain), later to be rebuilt and known as the Potala Palace. One hundred and eight smaller Khasarpani statues were also created from the first sandalwood tree and installed in the 108 temples.

From the second scared sandalwood tree another 108 Khasapani sculpture were created. It is not clear from the text of Lama Dampa Sonam Gyaltsen if the second 108 sculpture were installed in the original 108 demon subduing temples or if there was a secondary 108 temples, or they were placed in some other manner throughout temples in Tibet.

From the third tree four sacred sculpture were produced and installed in temples stretching from Kathmandu, Nepal, to Lhasa, Tibet: [1] Kathmandu (Rato Macchendranath), [2] Kathmandu (Seto Macchendranath), [3] Kyirong, and [4] Lhasa. These four sculpture appear to be of a larger size than the 108 installed in the demon subduing temples.

Snake Heart Sandalwood (originated in South India):
- Lokeshvara with Eleven Faces & One Thousand Hands Sculpture (Lhasa)
- 108 Pagpa Lokeshvara Sculpture (108 temples in Tibet)

Cow Head Sandalwood (originated in South India):
- 108 Pagpa Lokeshvara Sculpture (108 temples in Tibet)

Hari Sandalwood (originated in southern Nepal. Four sculpture produced):
- Kathmandu - Pagpa Ugang (Khasarpani Lokeshvara, Rato Macchendranath)
- Kathmandu - Pagpa Jamali (Khasarpani Lokeshvara, Seto Macchendranath)
- Kyirong, Tibet - Pagpa Wati (Khasarpani Lokeshvara)
- Lhasa, Tibet - Pagpa Lokeshvara (Khasarpani)

In painting, the famous Pagpa Lokeshvara of Kyirong is commonly represented as a background image in paintings of Sakya Pandita when he is depicted as a Panchen Lama incarnation. Sakya Pandita once had a famous debate with an Indian teacher named Harinanda in front of the Pagpa of Kyirong.

- Sandalwood:
- Wood:
- Ivory: Example 1 #11425, 2 #87411
- Metal: Example 1 #44243
- Other...

One of the largest of these sculptures is from Kyirong in Southern Tibet, now housed in Dharamsala, India. Another is located in the Potala Palace in Lhasa. The two other sculptures are worshiped as the Rato Macchendranath and Seto Macchendranath Temples in Patan and Jamali, Kathmandu, Nepal.

Which of the wood sculpture, if any, below are created from the three sacred sandalwood trees discovered from the vision of King Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century? Which ones belong to the two-hundred and sixteen (216) original sculpture housed in the one hundred and eight (108) Demon Subduing temples? See a painting that depicts the Wati Zangpo and the Jamala Lokeshvara sculptures (HAR #457).

(Ian Alsop in his article 'Phagpa Lokes'vara of the Potala' identifies and provides images for over 17 of these unique forms. Since the publishing of the article many more have been identified in other collections).

Jeff Watt 4-2007 [updated 2-2015]

Prolegomena to the Study of an Early Wood Bodhisatva from the Himalayas by Pratapaditya Pal, February 18, 2023. Asianart.com.

Phagpa Lokes'vara of the Potala by Ian Alsop. Orientations, 1990.

The Clear Mirror, A Traditional Account of Tibet's Golden Age. Sakyapa Sonam Gyaltsen (1312-1375). Translated by McComas Taylor and Lama Chodak Yuthok (pp. 111-117). Snow lion Publications, 1996.

Re-Assessing the Supine Demoness: Royal Buddhist Geomancy in the Srong btsan sgam po Mythology. Martin A. Mills, University of Aberdeen. JIATS, no. 3 (December 2007), THL #T3108, 47 pp. (c)2007 by Martin A. Mills, IATS, and THL

84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha: The Basket’s Display (Kāraṇḍa­vyūha, ’’phags pa za ma tog bkod pa zhes bya ba theg pa chen po’i mdo).

Lotsawa House: Sādhana of the Five Self-Arisen Noble Brothers by Shikpo Lingpa.