06. Sadaksari Avalokitesvara 四臂观音菩萨

Western Tibet 西藏西部
Circa 15th Century
Gilt-copper alloy with silver and copper
Height: 11¼ in. (28.6 cm.)

Philip Goldman, London

This impressive sculpture depicts four-armed Sadaksari, bodhisattva of compassion in his role as the Lord of the Six Realms, seated on a tiered and stepped throne supported by peacocks, lions, and elephants.  The bodhisattvas’s eyes are inlaid with silver, and his lips with copper.  Richly adorned with elaborate beaded jewels and dressed in finely-embroidered garments, he wears a tall five-leaf crown with a diminutive figure of Amitabha surmounting his coiffure and rising up above the crown.  The top and bottom edges of the throne are inscribed (see details below).

The tall crown with the distinctive crescent supporting the central medallion resembles the crown type from Kashmir and western-Tibetan sculpture in earlier periods (compare von Schroeder, Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet, Vol. I, India and Nepal, 2001, p. 155, for an 11th Century western-Tibetan standing Manjusri in the Jokhand, Lhasa).  The remaining sculptural elements relate to 15th-century styles, thus it may be surmised that the present example is the product of the renaissance in western Tibetan regions in the 15th Century.

Sadaksari Lokesvara is one of the forms of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara and is believed to be the embodiment of the mystic Buddhist mantra of six syllables OM Mani Padme Hum. The six syllables are the seed syllables of the six realms of the wheel of life: OM is white and stands for the god realm; Ma is green and stands for the demigod or Asura realm; Ni is yellow and stands for the human realm; Pad is blue and stands for the animal realms; Me is red and stands for the hungry ghost realm; and Hum is black and stands for the demonic hell realm.

Running along the top and bottom edge of the pedestal, the three-line votive inscription provides information about the benefactors, the context of the donation, and the identity of the artist.  The sculpture is identified as an image of the Great Compassionate One, a common epithet of Sadaksari Avalokitesvara, was commissioned by: Päljor Tashi, his spouse, and their daughter Künga Zangmo, and was revered as a personal and tutelary deity.  Commissioned in gratitude for the kindness shown by the donors’ family, the image is dedicated to the purification of sins and to the attainment of Enlightenment for all the beings of the Six Realms of existence.  The nature of such a dedication implies that the statue was commissioned shortly after the parents had passed away. The inscription concludes with the artist’s name, Garwang.

 In the inscription, Künga Zangmo is referred to as a ‘most excellent child,’ an expression which could also be translated as ‘best spiritual heir.’  It is tempting to infer that the child/spiritual heir could perhaps be identified as Künga Zangmo (1459–1502), the second incarnation of Samding Dorje Pakmo, who was sent at the age of six to Mangyül Gungtang, a border area between Tibet and Nepal.

Another sculpture can be attributed to the same hand, if not to the same atelier (see Christie’s, New York, March 22, 2000, no. 93, a representation of Maitreya with strong stylistic similarities to the present example).  Both images have been inscribed in a similar fashion and can be dated to the fifteenth century.

Tibetan inscription translation:

“This is the image of the tutelary deity (Tib. yi dam), the Great Compassionate One, commissioned by Päljor Tashi (Tib. dPal-’byor bKra-shis) and spouse, [together with] the most excellent child Künga Zangmo (Tib. Kun-dga’ bZang-mo).  With the intention to show gratitude for the parents’ kindness, [it] was realized in order for the beings of the six realms to attain Buddhahood; to purify each one’s defilements and obscurations; and to attain the most perfect state of Buddhahood in the future.  [This statue] arose from the fingertips [of] the dexterous Garwang (Tib. Gar dbang).  May the benefactors and recipients enjoy prosperity! May it be auspicious!”