Red Avalokiteshvara, 18th century
Tibet or Nepal
Pigments on cloth
25 ⅛ x 17 ½ in.


Bodhisattvas are traditionally described as beings that aspire to attain enlightenment and help others to achieve it. The greatest bodhisattvas are near enlightenment and are regarded as deities with abilities nearly equal to those of Buddhas. They can be male or female and are portrayed adorned with crowns, jeweled ornaments, and garments of ancient Indian royalty. They are identifiable by the distinctive attributes that symbolize their particular enlightened qualities.
The vibrant red figure in this elaborate scroll painting is Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, one of the most popular devotional deities in Nepal, where 108 forms of him are known. He is depicted standing, with his right hand in the gesture of giving, and holding the stalk of a lotus, with his left.
Avalokiteshvara is considered the earthly manifestation of the Buddha Amitabha, who is shown in his crown. His consort is Tara, a deity who appears elsewhere in this gallery. It is said that she was born from one of Avalokiteshvara’s tears, which transformed into a lake, out of which arose a lotus, from which Tara was revealed when it opened.


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