Eleven-Headed, Thousand-Armed Bodhisattva of Compassion (Avalokiteshvara)

Eleven-Headed, Thousand-Armed Bodhisattva of Compassion (Avalokiteshvara)

c. 1500

Opaque watercolor and ink on cotton

Overall: 94.6 x 69.2 cm (37 1/4 x 27 1/4 in.)

Andrew R. and Martha Holden Jennings Fund 1982.147



The figure's 1,000 arms surround the central figure like a radiating halo. Each hand has an eye in the palm to see the suffering of all beings, which generates the feeling of compassion that this figure embodies. The special form of the central image of Avalokiteshvara derives from the mystic vision of a nun named Gelongma Palmo, who was born a Kashmiri princess, but prayed for leprosy to avoid having to marry. As a nun she defeated the male representatives of different branches of Buddhism, but as her leprosy worsened, monks saw blood seeping from under the door of her cell. Accused of having a miscarriage, she was ejected from the monastery and went to meditate in a cave, where she achieved this vision of eleven-headed, thousand-armed Avalokiteshvara, who cured her leprosy and guided her on the path to enlightenment. Three-day community fasting rituals in her honor continue to be performed throughout the tantric Buddhist world.

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