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Special Exhibitions Eleven-headed Avalokiteshvara
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sicy        Updated:2007-02-14      Text:Large /  Medium  /  Small  



  Eleven-headed Avalokiteshvara
Eastern India  
16th –17th Century A.D.
46.5 cm x18.5 cm x13 cm
ACC NO:   CAC/Conf/FA/4
According to the Buddhist traditions, Avalokiteshvara represents the concept of the ‘watchful lord’ and fosters spiritual knowledge among his worshippers, thus regarded as the best of the jewel of the Buddhist Sangharatna. The Sadhanmala enumerates fifteen important forms of Avalokiteshvara for different functions. But there are one hundred eight more forms of Avalokiteshvara reported elsewhere.
There is a reference to the form of Mahasahasrasuryya Lokeshvara having eleven faces and eight arms, standing on a lotus. Each of his two principal hands exhibits the abhaya pose, while the remaining hands hold the rosary, the chakra, the utpala, a bow with an arrow and the vessel, besides the gesture of varada.      
       The present image of the eleven-headed Avalokiteshvara, regarded as the cosmic form of the Bodhisattva. Relatively, this form was preferred less in India as compared to Nepal,   China and Japan. The earliest representation of this form occurs at a cave temple in Kanheri and the other in the Nalanda museum. Generally, the deity is represented standing with a few exceptions noted in the Chinese paintings from Dunhuang where he is seated. The Bodhisattva is also manifested with two, four, six, eight, or one thousand arms. The eleven heads arranged one above the other in diminishing size in three tiers, each comprising three heads with placid appearance. The tenth head with third eye on the forehead displays anger is placed over a cylindrical floral motif. The eleventh head at submit is of Amitabha, his parental Buddha.  
  This cosmic form of Avalokiteshvara has been, at times, considered as an iconographic transference of the Eleven Rudras known in the Vedic context and, some times, represent the eight directions along with the zenith, the centre and the nether region. His principal hands represent anjali-mudra while the remaining three right hands hold rosary, flaming jewel and a fruit; the left, however, holds a lotus bud, a book and a pot. He wears a dhoti tied to waistband and a sash falls from either side of his shoulder, terminating into foliated pleat. His nine heads are adorned with three pronged crowns and karnakundalas and body with hara, necklace, girdle and wristlets.