02. Eleven-faced, Thousand-armed Avalokitesvara 十一面千手观音

Tibet, Central Regions 西藏中部地区
late 14th/early 15th Century
Distemper on cloth
32¼ by 28¼ in. (81.9 by 71.8 cm.)

Zimmerman Family Collection
California Private Collection

Rhie and Thurman, Wisdom and Compassion: The Sacred Art of Tibet, exhibition catalogue (expanded edition), Tibet House, New York, 2000, p. 463, 218 (128a)

With an array of yellow-hatted lamas, bare-headed lamas, Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and protector deities forming a grid pattern on all sides, the image of the white eleven-faced, thousand-armed Avalokitesvara stands as a single large figure amplified by the large circle of his thousand arms.  The eight main arms hold the major symbols and perform the main gestures of the Boddhisattva, the sublime being who is beloved by all Mahayana Buddhists and considered by Tibetans the special protector of Tibet.  His right hands hold a rosary and a wheel of the Teaching, and make the boon-granting gesture.  His left hands hold a white lotus, a bow and arrow, and a vase of elixir.  In front of his heart his two hands are held in the prayer gesture, holding the wish-fulfilling gem.

Directly above is Amitabha, and at his feet stand two small attendants and the seated figures of White and Green Tara.  Along the bottom are various protector deities: from left to right, black-robed Bernagjen; blue standing Mahakala; white, six-armed standing Mahakala; two figures in the retinue of Mahakala, including the bear-riding Kshetrapala; the large main blue Mahakala; two more figures in his retinue; Hayagriva; Penden Lhamo; red Hayagriva; and a peaceful Shri Devi.  Red-outlined blue clouds fill the spaces on the dark blue background.

The lively and free linear drawing of scarves and robes with vigorous curves and arcs and the intensity of the dark blues, greens, and red create a fresh, energetic style linked to that of the Gyantse Kumbum wall paintings of circa 1425-1450.  Though the specific lamas in the present example are difficult to identify precisely, they may be associated with the Geluk Order, established in the early 15th century.