Explore highlights
Avalokiteshvara as Guide of Souls, ink and colours on silk


Height: 848.000 mm
Width: 547.000 mm

Gift of Sir Marc Aurel Stein

Asia OA 1919,1-1,0.46


    Avalokiteshvara as Guide of Souls, ink and colours on silk

    From Cave 17, Mogao, near Dunhuang, Gansu province, China
    Five Dynasties, early 10th century AD

    To ease the passage of the soul to paradise

    The figure of the Buddha Amitabha in the headdress clearly identifies this figure as Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion. He is leading the soul of a female devotee to the halls of paradise, depicted at the top of the painting by three bands each with tiny buildings. Both Avalokiteshvara and his follower are supported on clouds. He holds a censer in his left hand, while in his right hand he holds a long hooked staff from which a banner is suspended. The streamers are adorned with small diamonds of gold and the main panel of the banner simulates writing in red. The aristocratic lady who follows behind is drawn on a smaller scale. She wears a splendid coat with decorative roundels, a common feature of textiles from the late Tang dynasty. This can be seen on the patches of kasaya, Buddhist monastic robes.

    Despite the blank cartouche, we know from another titled painting (also in the Stein Collection, British Museum) that this work is of a type known as Yinlu pu, a 'Bodhisattva Guide of Souls'. This was a popular theme from the late Tang until the early Song Dynasty (ninth-tenth century). A work like this was probably offered by a deceased person's family to ease the passage of their soul to paradise.

    M. Aurel Stein, Serindia: detailed report of e, 5 vols. (Oxford, 1921)

    A. Waley, A catalogue of paintings recov (London, 1931)

    R. Whitfield, Art of Central Asia: The Ste-1, vol. 2 (Tokyo, Kodansha International Ltd., 1982-85)

    R. Whitfield and A. Farrer, Caves of the thousand Buddhas: (London, The British Museum Press, 1990)


    Browse or search over 4,000 highlights from the Museum collection

    Shop Online

    Survey of Chinese ceramics, £14.95

    Survey of Chinese ceramics, £14.95