Avalokitesvara - the compassionate Bodhisattva

Exploring a Tibetan Buddhist 'thangka' (18th century) of Bodhisattva Avalokiteswara

Bodhisattva Avalokiteswara, (1700/1799)Salar Jung Museum

Who is Avalokiteswara?

Avalokiteshvara is the earthly manifestation of the self-born eternal Buddha Amitabha and he guards the world in the interval between the exit of the historical Buddha, Gautama, and the appearance of the future buddha, Maitreya. He is a  compassionate Bodhisattva.

Let's journey through his thangka!

Thangka of Avalokitesvara

A Tibetan thangka or scroll painting depicting Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara in the centre with two deities of Tara standing on either side of his feet, Shakyamuni Buddha is in meditation on his left top, two deities on either side below him. The painting is made within beautiful natural elements like clouds and foliage and is dated to the 18th century.

Eleven-headed Avalokitesvara

The depiction is of the eleven-headed Avalokitesvara arranged in five series, in a pyramidal sequence. As per legend, Avalokiteswara split into 10 pieces from despair seeing wickedness in the world, Amitabha caused each piece to become a head; with his image above all.

The different heads

The heads looking forward have a benevolent expression. The left ones are expressing anger at the follies of humans and the right ones are smiling at good deeds.

Guru Tsongkhapa

This image is that of a Guru Tsongkhapa. He is the founder of the Gelug sect of Buddhism in Tibet. Here he is in dharmachakra mudra or gesture of the 'Wheel of Dharma'. The dharmachakra is the single most important symbol of Buddhism, denoting the Buddha's first sermon at Sarnath.

Shakyamuni Buddha

This image is that of Shakyamuni Buddha,  who is in the bhoomisparsha mudra.  This gesture is also known as 'touching the Earth' which is symbolic of the moment of the Buddha's awakening as he claims the earth as the witness of his enlightenment.

Golden yellow Tara

According to Tibetan Buddhism Yellow Tara has the power to increase prosperity, abundance and good fortune.

Green Tara

Green Tara is one of the most beloved figures in Tibetan Buddhism. As a bodhisattva, she helps people pass beyond the troubles of earthly existence and move toward enlightenment.

A Buddhist deity

This is the Buddhist deity Mahakala. He is a protector. He is multi-armed with weapons and has skulls in his diadem and is surrounded by flames. His foot is trampling a demon.

A Buddhist deity

Tibetan Buddhist deity Dorje Legpa in the incarnation of Dumchen Garwai Nakpo, riding side saddle on a goat, the deity has five human skulls in his diadem.He carries a long hammer and bellows. He was one of the protectors of Buddhist teachings. His name means oathbound benign thunderbolt.

Credits: Story

Text and Curation : Soma Ghosh
Photography : M. Krishnamurthy and Bahadur Ali
Research Assistance : Dinesh Singh and E. Rajesh
Special Thanks to : Dr. A. Nagender Reddy, Director, Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad, India.

References -

1. Chandra, Lokesh (2012) Tibetan Art, New Delhi; Niyogi Books
2. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Avalokiteshvara
(accessed 09.11.2022)
3.https://mandalas.life/2018/all-about-green-tara/(accessed 09.11.2022)
4.https://www.antiquestradegazette.com/print-edition/2022/ (accessed 10.11.2022)

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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