According to Buddhist philosophy, bodhisattvas are compassionate beings who delay their own enlightenment in order to help others attain this ultimate goal of Buddhism. Cast in one piece, this very early multi-armed sculpture depicts Avalokiteshvara, the most prominent of the Buddhist bodhisattvas, and
the bodhisattva of compassion.
This post-Gupta style sculpture is clearly identified as Avalokiteshvara by the iconographic device of the small Buddha figure seated upon his head. The bodhisattva is shown in the straight-standing (sambhanga) pose. His twelve hands display various symbolic attributes and hand gestures (mudras). His compassion and wisdom are indicated, respectively, by the lotus and the small rectangular palm-leaf manuscript, while his hand gestures represent reassurance, adoration and charity. Other attributes include fruit, the ascetic’s water pot and a jewel. With hair gathered in a crown of matted tresses, the bodhisattva wears the simple robes of a wandering ascetic. Open and looking ahead, the bodhisattva’s eyes are inlaid with silver and he has the elongated earlobes that indicate a supernatural Buddhist being.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008