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


Height: 79.300 cm
Width: 62.000 cm

Gift of Sir Marc Aurel Stein

Asia OA 1919,1-1,0.17


    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.

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


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

    Shop Online

    Chinese calligraphy, £6.99

    Chinese calligraphy, £6.99