Enlarge Image

Deities and Devotion in Mongolian Buddhist Art

Six-Syllable Avalokiteshvara
19th century
Pigments and gold on sized cloth
16.2 x 12.7 cm.

Gift of David Kamansky and Gerald Wheaton, 2014.23.356

Avalokiteshvara is the bodhisattva of compassion. He can appear in numerous manifestations with different names and physical attributes. This manifestation of Avalokiteshvara is called Six-Syllable (Shadakshari) Avalokiteshvara. He is the guardian of the sacred mantra oṃ maṇe padme hūm, which devotees across Asia repeat to invoke Avalokiteshvara’s saving power. As here, Six-Syllable Avalokiteshvara is typically portrayed seated on a lotus pad in a cross-legged meditation pose. Two of his four arms are positioned in front of his body with the hands held in a gesture of veneration. The remaining two arms extend from his sides with the hands holding a prayer rosary and a lotus blossom. His body is adorned with fine clothing and jewelry, and he typically has an image of his patron, Amitabha Buddha, on his crown or appearing as a smaller head on top of his own head. Six-Syllable Avalokiteshvara protects beings in every realm of existence. This painting shows Avalokiteshvara demonstrating his power by conjuring a vision of four realms of existence: the hell realm, the hungry ghost realm, the animal realm and the human realm.

Reference: Fleming, Zara (ed.). Mongolian Buddhist Art: Masterpieces from the Museums of Mongolia. Volume 1, Parts 1 & 2: Thangkas, Appliqués and Embroideries. Chicago: Serindia Publications, 2011, pp. 540-545; Huntington, John C. and Bangdel, Dina. The Circle of Bliss: Buddhist Meditational Art. Columbus: Columbus Museum of Art, 2003, pp. 182-183; Lipton, Barbara. Treasures of Tibetan Art: Collections of the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996, pp. 145-146.