Thousand-armed, thousand-eyed Avalokiteshvara, ink and colours on silk

From Cave 17, Mogao, near Dunhuang, Gansu province, China
Tang dynasty, 8th - early 9th century AD

Esoteric icon for worship

The figure of the thousand-armed, thousand-eyed bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, who can see and hear all the suffering of the world and help the believer, became very popular during the Tang dynasty (AD 618-906). In this composition the 'thousand hands' form a halo behind the bodhisattva and fill the entire width of the painting. The secondary hands have eyes in their palms, while the primary hands hold various attributes or are shown in mudras (gestures), all corresponding to descriptions in sutras also found at Mogao.

The bodhisattva is supported by a lotus with two donor figures worshipping him. At the top Suryaprabha and Chandraprabha (the bodhisattvas of the sun and the moon) are shown in their respective chariots, but in the wrong order. The white disk indicates the moon, the red disk the sun. However the horses should belong to the sun (originating from the Indian sun god Surya), and the geese to the moon.

The carefully executed details and the clothing of the donor figures indicate a relatively early date for this painting within the material found at Mogao.

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More information

Bibliography

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

Dimensions

Height: 79.300 cm
Width: 62.000 cm

Museum number

Asia OA 1919,1-1,0.17

RFC617

Gift of Sir Marc Aurel Stein

Location

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