2. Avalokitesvara
(cat. pl. 2)
Swat Valley, Pakistan
c. 7th century
Copper alloy with silver
h. 12.9 cm


Avalolkitesvara adopts one of his most intriguing contemplative poses as he extends his right index finger towards his right temple.44 Pal has noted the popularity of such imagery in Kashmir during the seventh to the ninth centuries.45 Avalolkitesvara holds the stem of a lotus in his other hand and assumes a relaxed seated posture (lalitasana) on a raised platform; a lotus supports his left foot, His long hair is gathered into a fan shape at the top of his head, while thick tresses are arranged in a horizontal band along the forehead, a hairstyle particular to Swat Valley.46 Amitabha Buddha, his spiritual sire, is portrayed near the front of his coiffure, at the centre of a two-panelled diadem. Avalolkitesvara wears an enormous hoop earring in his left ear and a rosette in the right. A necklace of thick beads is fastened around his neck and a richly pleated dhoti, fastened below the navel, falls to his knees.

Magisterial in pose, this figure conveys strength and masculinity, qualities reminiscent of Gandharan (c. first to mid-fifth centuries) sculpture which could still be seen in late fifth-and sixth-century images from the Gandharan region.47 Like these 'post-Gandharan' figures48, this bodhisattva assumes a pose that is very different from the more gracious one assumed by c. eighth-century works48 from the same region; this feature may indicate an earlier, c. seventh-century date for this work. The somewhat unusual pierced throne design can also be seen in fifth-and sixth-century works49 from the northwest region of India.50

A Swat Valley provenance may be ascribed to this image; the ascription is based on its close parallels with other works attributed to Swat, notably a bodhisattva excavated along the Helmand River in Swat Valley.51 The Helmand River bodhisattva and this Avalokitesvara both have narrow, silver-inlaid eyes, long noses and thin lips, necklaces of large beads, armlets of similar design and tapered, muscular torsos, Many of the features, as well as the coiffure, lotus bud and thickly pleated dhoti of this image are similar to those of a c. seventh-century Padmapani attributed to Swat Valley and now in The Cleveland Museum of Art.52  (cat. pl. 2)

44. For the origins and development of this iconography, see Lee (1993).
45. Pal (1989), pp. 85-6.
46. See Schroeder (1981), figs. 6C, 6E, 6F, 6H, 9F, 10C, 10E, 10G, passim.
47. See for example Schroeder (1981), figs. 5D and 5E.
48. Following Schroeder, we use this term to refer to images produced in this region following the mid-fifth century Huna invasions. See Schroeder (1981), p. 68.
49. For example Schroeder (1981), figs. 6G and 6I.
50. Schroeder (1981), fig. 4D; and Fisher (1989), p. 14. See also a contemporaneous example of this throne type (although not perforated) in another Swat Valley image published in Schroeder (1981), fig. 6H.
51. Published in Barrett (1962), fig. 14 and Schroeder (1981), fig. 11D.
52. Published in Schroeder (1981), fig. 6F.

images © Nyingjei Lam
text © D. Weldon, Jane C. Singer