The extant 9 caves dug in the Yuan Dynasty (1273-1368) represent the last glory of the Mogao Grottos. Though having declined in the number of newly-created caves in the Yuan Dynasty, the Mogao Grottos maintained high quality of art during this period due to the worship of Yuan rulers for Buddhism. Cave 3 is the most prominent among the 9 Yuan grottos. On both the northern and southern walls of this cave there is a painting of Avalokitesvara (bodhisattva with a thousand eyes and a thousand hands) with the same composition. The northern one is better preserved.
In Buddhism, bodhisattvas are responsible for helping people out of misery. That’s why the Chinese Buddhism has adopted images of merciful ladies to represent bodhisattvas. Avalokitesvara belongs to the Tantric Buddhism, which has endowed the Avalokitesvara with a thousand eyes and a thousand hands to detect the miseries in the world and help people out. Paintings of this theme are similar in composition, but the two murals in cave 3 excel in palette and painting techniques. The Bodhisattva in the two paintings has 11 faces, 40 bigger hands and numerous smaller hands. The 40 bigger hands in particular, painted with smooth lines, are in distinctive gestures, testifying to the creator(s)’ supreme ability of observation and painting.