Phagpa Lokeshvara – a question of arms

It is always sad to see a sculpture of Phagpa Lokeshvara badly maimed or with a limb missing but one of them appears to have recovered a missing arm!

14th c. or later, Tibet, Phagpa Lokeshvara, polychrome wood, 30 cm, private collection.

The image on the left was published in 2001 on the immensely useful Himalayan Art Resources website, labelled Rakta Lokeshvara, stone. The image on the right was published on Sotheby’s website in September 2008 and twice again on the HAR website (labelled Phagpa Lokeshvara), the last time recently and still with both arms. The two items are one and the same, even the scratches on the surface are identical.

Undated, Tibet or Nepal, wood and paint, at Musée Guimet in Paris (France).

The fact that his arms are detachable and prone to fall off doesn’t explain why this particular one holds his left arm away from his hip, with his fingers folded to hold the stem of a lotus. It seems to be the only Himalayan example (so far) with this peculiar feature. The effigy of himself on his crown distinguishes him from the padmapani form of Avalokiteshvara, who normally holds the stem of a lotus.

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