Tibet, Avalokiteshvara – unusual forms

Undated (16th century circa?), Tibet, Avalokiteshvara, wood and cold gold, private collection, published on Himalayan Art Resources.

Undated (16th century circa or later), Tibet, Avalokiteshvara, wood and cold gold, private collection, published on Himalayan Art Resources.

This looks like a later version of a Nepalese-style three-headed bodhisattva at the Cleveland Museum of Art, thought to be a form of Avalokiteshvara (published in a previous post and reproduced further down for comparison).

3-head Avalokiteshvara, undated, Tibet, wood+cold gold, close up

This one, however, has Chinese-style facial features and, instead of a large flower with 4 pointed petals, the earrings are like a large circle with a small triangular pendant, a design often seen on Tibetan sculptures of bodhisattvas from the 16th century onwards.

3-headed Avalokiteshvara, 10th-12th c., Tibet or W. Him., wood, 44 cm, Nepalese school, Cleveland.jpg

On both pieces, the top of the heads looks truncated, without a chignon, as if they formed part of a post or as if more heads were missing (i.e. they may have been 11-head sculptures originally).

12th century circa, Western Tibet, Avalokiteshvara Chaturbhuja, copper alloy with copper inlay, private collection, published on Himalayan Art Resources.

12th century circa, Western Tibet, Avalokiteshvara Chaturbhuja, copper alloy with copper inlay, private collection, published on http://www.asianart.com.

This form of the deity with one head and four (rather large) hands is unusual because the position of the hands doesn’t correspond to any common form. His main hands do the dhyana mudra (meditation gesture), his other right hand does the gesture of supreme generosity, there is a lotus bud is attached to the elbow. The other left hand holds the stem of a lotus flower topped with a ritual pot of water while doing the karana mudra (to ward off evil). He is seated on a double-lotus base with plump petals associated with Western Tibet (especially around the 14th century). He wears simple jewellery and an ankle-length dhoti knotted around the waist, the lower hem inlaid with copper. His broken crown reveals what has been interpreted as a naga hood. This feature (normally associated with the historical buddha in allusion to the Mucalinda legend) is usually formed by the nimbus over his head.

17th century, Tibet, Avalokiteshvara, brass with cold gold and pigments, private collection, published on Himalayan Art Resources.

17th century, Tibet, Avalokiteshvara, brass with cold gold and pigments, Seer Photographic Collection on Himalayan Art Resources.

This sculpture is attributed to Choying Dorge, the 10th karmapa, who had a particularly innovative style. Avalokiteshvara is seated on a young cow, both legs pendant, his feet resting on a Swat Valley-style double-lotus base. Two attendants kneel at his feet as on early Kashmiri works. He holds a flower in his right hand and the stem of a lotus and a water pot in the other. There is a halo behind him topped with a fruit tree.

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Tibet, Amoghapasha Lokeshvara

Almost never represented in Tibet in the form of sculpture, this deity, generally thought to be a form of Avalokiteshvara (rightly or wrongly) may have one to three heads and two to 12 hands. His  distinctive attribute is the pasha or rope, which, according to Tibetan scriptures, may be a noose or a lasso, or both. Other attributes may be a rosary or a flywhisk, a water pot, a long-stem lotus, a trident or an elephant goad, a vajra sceptre, and one of his right hands usually displays the gesture of supreme generosity.

Undated, Tibet, Amoghapasha, copper alloy with cold gold and pigment, at the Tibet Museum in New Delhi, on HImalayan Art Resources.

Undated, Tibet, Amoghapasha, copper alloy with cold gold and pigment, at the Tibet Museum in New Delhi, on HImalayan Art Resources.

On the Nepalese-style example above, there is a rosary in his top right hand, a noose in the next one down, the other two are doing the abhaya and the varada mudra. His top left hand holds a manuscript, the next ones down hold a trident (in the form of a thick stalk with three lotus buds), a lotus flower and a round water pot. These attributes and mudras correspond to a description given in an ancient text from Nepal, where he was considerably more popular, but there are variations on the objects he holds and their position.

 

Tibet, Avalokiteshvara – simhanada

11th-12th century, Tibet, Avalokiteshvara Simhanada, brass, at the gTsug Lakhang, publised by Ulrich von Schroeder.

11th-12th century, Tibet, Avalokiteshvara, simhanada, brass, at the gTsug Lakhang, publised by Ulrich von Schroeder.

same as above.

same as above.

These “stick-like” brass sculptures, with tubular limbs and an underdeveloped chest, big hands and large facial features, are typical of Western Tibet. Avalokiteshvara in his simhanada form rides a snow lion.

On the first sculpture, he is sitting on a cushion and holding one of his attributes, the long-stemmed lotus. His earrings are out of proportion, stones are missing from the tall central panel of his crown. There are traces of cold gold on the face. The lion is depicted in a  schematic way. The double-lotus base rests on a throne engraved with circles and dots, with two small constructions on each side and supported by Yakshas whos facial features match those of the lion.

On the second and more harmonious sculpture, Avalokiteshvara is resting directly on the lion and holding a long-stemmed lotus bud in his left hand. His small crown is decorated with rosettes/lotus flowers, a tall Indian-style chignon topped with a lotus bud finial sticks out of it. The rectangular platform under them is decorated with incised  lotus petals with dots.

Western Tibet, Avalokiteshvara Shadbhuja

11th century circa, Western Tibet, bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara Shadbhuja, brass with pigments, at the gTsug Lakhang, published by Ulrich von Schroeder.

11th century circa, Western Tibet, bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara Shadbhuja (6 arms), Kashmir school, brass with pigments, published by Ulrich von Schroeder.

Labelled Avalokiteshvara, this bodhisattva could also be Amoghapasha Lokeshvara. He is sitting on a lion throne backed with a Kashmir-style double mandorla with incised flames, his left foot resting on a lotus flower. The effigy of Amitabha in the central panel of his small crown and the antelope skin resting on his left shoulder and knotted across his chest are features common to both deities. He has a tall Indian-style chignon and several strands of hair falling over his shoulders on both sides. The abdomen is vaguely “lobed” in the Kashmiri fashion but the navel is a large punched hole rather than the usual cruciform shape. He is wearing an incised dhoti that reaches below knee level, held in place with a belt, some simple jewellery – no anklets, a thick garland typical of Western Tibet and several attributes in his hands (lasso, thunderbolt, fly whisk in his right hands, pot of water, lotus and vajra-hook in the others), which  are  the attributes of Amoghapasha Lokeshvara. Generally thought to be an aspect of Avalokiteshvara, Amoghapasha is regarded by some experts as a different deity (see Jeff Watts’s comments on the Rubin Museum Art website, the link is in the left-hand column).

The face, with wider features than Kashmiri ones, has been painted with cold gold and the hair with lapis lazuli powder, in the Tibetan fashion.