Tag Archives: asian art

Avalokitesvara images : varied depictions

       Avalokitesvara or Lord who looks down, is  a bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas. This bodhisattva is  depicted differently and described.In Chinese Buddhism he becomes the somewhat different female figure Guan-yin.  Avalokitesvara is also referred to as Padmapani ,holder of the Lotus or Lokesvara or Lord of the World. In Tibet, Avalokitesvara is Chenrezik. In Cambodia, he appears as Lokesvara. Avalokitesvara remained popular in India until the 12th century.

       In Mahayana Buddhism,as per the Karandavyuha sutra, the sun and moon are said to be born from Avalokitesvara’s eyes, Shiva from his brow, Brahma from his shoulders, Narayana from his heart, Saraswati from his teeth, the winds from his mouth, the earth from his feet and the sky from his stomach and he is an attendant of Amitabha. He is also mentioned in the Lotus sutra, Heart sutra, Nilakanthi dharani sutra and few others. From the 15th century, the Dalai Lamas are held to be his incarnations.

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Padmapani(Avalokitesvara), cave painting,6th century,Ajanta caves, Maharashtra.

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Water moon Avalokitesvara,painting,10-14th century, Goryeo dynasty,Korea,Musee Guimet,France.

By Goryeo-Dynasty artist (http://tayler.tistory.com/679) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


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Padmapani, Nepal, 14th century, gilt bronze,Berkeley Art Museum,USA.

By Daderot (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

        Avalokitesvara is highly revered in Tibetan Buddhism, and is regarded in the Vajrayana teachings as a Buddha. He is depicted on a lotus pedestal in yogic control and with differently numbered arms and multiple headed too. In thangkas, the sun and moon emblems can be seen on top. It is believed in Tibet that Tara was formed from a teardrop of Avalokiteswara which became a lake which revealed her in a lotus opening.

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Chenrezik (Avalokitesvara), thangka, Tibet.

Attibution : http://www.flickr.com/photos/wonderlane

       Avalokitesvara has number of manifestations in different forms; Aryavalokitesvara,root form of the Bodhisattva,Ekadasamukha with  ten additional faces to teach all in ten planes of existence,Sahasra-bhuja Sahasra-netra thousand-armed, thousand-eyed sees and helps all beings. Chintamanichakra holds the bejewelled chintamani wheel; Hayagriva is a wrathful form. Cundi is a woman portrayed with many arms. Amoghapasa is with rope and net .

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 Avalokitesvara, brass sculpture, 11th century, Tibet,LACMA,USA.

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

File:Avalokiteshvara (Guanyin), China, c. 1220-1300 AD, gilded bronze - Östasiatiska museet, Stockholm - DSC09614.JPG

Guanyin( Avalokitesvara), gilded bronze, 13th century,China,Östasiatiska Museet, Stockholm.

By Daderot (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

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Avalokitesvara, probably Padmapani Lokeshvara,  Newari painting by Anandamuni Shakya,1940s,Kathmandu, Nepal.


     There is a belief that Avalokitesvara had taken a vow to free all beings suffering in samsara, and his head splits into eleven pieces struggling  to understand everyone’s misery; Amitabha helps him to get eleven heads to hear and react to the cries of the suffering. However his hands are shattered too, Amitabha then gives him a thousand hands to reach out to help the needy.

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Avalokitesvara,sculpture,Le or Nguyen Dynasty,18th century,Vietnam.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/dalbera/15517356585..by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra



References :

  • Thomas, P/Epics, myths and legends of India, Bombay : D. B. Taraporevala and Sons.
  • wikipedia.org
  • Fisher,Robert E./Buddhist art and architecture,London : Thames and Hudson,1993.

Posted by :

Soma Ghosh

© author

Symbols of Buddhism : ashtamangala depictions

         There are eight auspicious symbols which are revered  in  Buddhism. They are represented together in an ashtamangala. The symbols in early Buddhism included: throne, swastika, hand-print, endless knot, vase of jewels, water libation flask, pair of fishes, lidded bowl. In Buddhism, these eight symbols of good fortune represent the offerings made by the gods to Buddha immediately after his enlightenment.Depictions in art are found in Asian countries wherever Buddhism flourished.

The ashtamangala in Chinese,Tibetan and Nepali Buddhism are  conch, endless knot, two goldfish, lotus,parasol,vase dharmachakra , dhwaja or victory banner.

File:Colossal Parasol with Eight Auspicious Symbols - Circa 1st Century CE - Gita Enclave - ACCN 00-72-5 - Government Museum - Mathura 2013-02-23 5570.JPG

 Eight symbols,1st century,Mathura Museum,Uttar Pradesh.

Biswarup Ganguly [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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Four of the Ashtamangala symbols, Thimpu,Bhutan.

By Christopher J Fynn – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39168187

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Four of the Ashtamangala symbols, Thimpu,Bhutan.

By Christopher J Fynn – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39168185


Ashtamangala,Hall of Fame, Leh,Laddakh.

By Redtigerxyz (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The symbols represent various concepts ; the right turning conch shankha represents the  sound of the dharma, which awakens followers from the deep slumber  of ignorance.

The endless knot Srivatsa is the symbol of the ultimate unity of everything;the intertwining of wisdom and compassion.

The two goldfish or gaurmatsya symbolise the auspiciousness of all beings in a state of fearlessness without danger of drowning in samsara.In Buddhism, the fish symbolise happiness as they have complete freedom of movement in the water.

File:Window Samten-Chöling Tsakaling.jpg

Temple window with symbols,Bhutan.

©Christopher J. Fynn / Wikimedia Commons, via Wikimedia Commons

The lotus or padma symbolises purity and renunciation. The lotus flower has its roots in the mud at the bottom of a pond, but its flower lies perfect and unaffected  above the water.

The jewelled parasol or chatraratna represents the protection of beings from harmful forces and influences.

The  vase of treasures  or bumpa represents abundance  health, longevity and  prosperity; similar to the Kumbha or Kalasa in Hindusism.

The dharmachakra or wheel of law represents the Buddha and  the  Dharma teachings.

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Dharmachakra, ceiling, Global Vipassana Pagoda, Mumbai.

Joe Ravi [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

       The dhwaja or flag was a military standard of ancient Indian warfare. The symbol represents the Buddha’s victory over the four maras which tried to disturb him on his path to  enlightenment. These hindrances are excessive pride, desire, disturbing emotions and the fear of death.

Door with the ashtamangala symbols,Nepal.

By Christopher J. Fynn (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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Decorated tent with symbols,China.

By Popolon (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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Bowl with eight symbols in fencai enamel,Hong Kong Museum of Art,Hong Kong.

By Mk2010 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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Ashtamangala symbols,wedding card,Nepal.

See page for author [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons


Auspicious symbols,wood carving,Tibet.

Source and copyright owner: Tibetan Museum Society [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

References :

  • Thomas, P/Epics, myths and legends of India, Bombay : D. B. Taraporevala and Sons.
  • wikipedia.org

Posted by :

Soma Ghosh

© author

Bodhisattvas in art : painted images

    Bodhisattva is a Sanskrit term for anyone who has generated bodhichitta, motivated by great compassionwhich is an intense wish to attain buddha-hood for the benefit of all. Bodhisattva is a being who has not attained enlightenment, and may refrain from nirvana in the hopes of aiding others to reach it. The term is applied to hypothetical beings with a high degree of enlightenment and power. Bodhisattvas are an important subject in Buddhist art.

In Indian Buddhism, the term bodhisattva referred to the Buddha in his former lives. The Jataka tales, which are the stories of the Buddha’s lives, depict the various trials of the bodhisattva to develop self-sacrifice and imbibe high moral values. In fact Mahayana Buddhism is based on the path of a bodhisattva.  It is believed that this term is synonymous with Bodhisattvayana. The list of Bodhisattvas include AkasagarbhaAvalokitesvara, Ksitigarbha,Mahasthamaprapta,Maitreya,Manjusri,Nio,Padmasambhava,Samantabhadra,Sangharama,Sitatapatra,Skanda,Tara,Vajrapani and Vasundhara. Suryaprabha and Supushpachandra are other bodhisattvas.

Bodhisattva Akasagarbha is related to space, Avalokitesvara is the bodhisattva of compassion and the most universally acknowledged bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism.  Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha is  revered in East Asian Buddhism and  depicted as a Buddhist monk. His name may be translated as Earth Womb. He is the guardian of children and patron deity of deceased children and aborted fetuses in Japanese culture. Mahasthamaprapta represents the power of wisdom.Maitreya is regarded as the future Buddha. Maitreya is a bodhisattva who will appear on earth in the future, achieve complete enlightenment, and preach pure dharma or religious righteousness. Gautama Buddha before being born on earth was a Bodhisattva having attained this position by taking a vow for enlightenment, and then went through various births and was in Tushita heaven as the reigning Bodhisattva.

Manjusri is a bodhisattva associated with prajna or transcendent wisdom. Nio are two muscular guardians of the Buddha standing today at the entrance of many Buddhist temples in East Asia. Padmasambhava or Lotus-Born, also known as Guru Rinpoche. Samantabhadra is associated with action and he has made ten great vows .Sanghrama are revered in Chinese Buddhism and Taoism, a group of devas who guard viharas. Sitapatra or the white parasol is a protector against supernatural danger. Skanda is regarded as a devoted guardian of viharas and the Buddhist teachings. Tara is a female bodhisattva, or set of bodhisattvas, in Tibetan Buddhism. She represents success in work. Vajrapani is protector of Gautama Buddha and rose to symbolize the Buddha’s power.Vasudhara means stream of gems in Sanskritand she is the bodhisattva of wealth, prosperity, and abundance, similar to Goddess Lakshmi in Hinduism.

   The Bodhisattva path is an arduous, difficult monastic but glorious path one can take, as described in Buddhist texts. The bodhisattva has to take vows to work for the enlightenment of all beings by practising six imperfections.A bodhisattva is one liberates beings from samsara, cycle of death, rebirth and suffering. A bodhisattva’s mind is known as the bodhichitta or awakened mind .

Hinayana Buddhism recognizes only Maitreya.The painted images of Boddhisatvas have been made in countries wherever Mahayana Buddhism has  flourished.

Mural depiction of worshipping bodhisattvas, Wei Dynasty,6th century, China.

By unknown ancient Buddhist artist(s) – Cave 285. Wei Dynasty (535-556 A.D.), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9557200

Cave mural of Avalokitesvara, worshipping bodhisattvas,Tang Dynasty,618-907 A.D.

By unknown ancient Buddhist artist(s) – Cave 57. Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9557135

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Amitabha with  bodhisattvas,10th-14th century, Tokugawa Art Museum, Japan.

By Goryeo-Dynasty artist [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Painting of Akasagarbha, 13th century, Kamakura period,Japan.

By unknown artist – zAHGDjCz55_mHg at Google Cultural Institute maximum zoom level, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22564534

Avalokitesvara painting,palm-leaf manuscript ,12th century, India.

By Asia Society created the file. Artwork created by an anonymous ancient source. – http://asiasocietymuseum.org/region_object.asp?RegionID=1&CountryID=2&ChapterID=10&ObjectID=479, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12596710

Ksitigarbha painting,  late 14th century,Goryeo, Korea.

By Unidentified artist – http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ho/07/eak/hob_29.160.32.htm, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2826252


Mahasthamaprapta,painting,13th century,China.

By China, Tangut State of Hsi Hsia, Khara-Khoto, 13th century – http://www.arthermitage.org/Painting/Mahasthamaprapta.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7754845

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Maitreya ,illustration,manuscript,early 12th century, India.

By Metropolitan Museum of Art created the file. Artwork created by an anonymous ancient source. – http://www.nysun.com/arts/oases-of-color/83047/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11608769

Manjusri,illustration, palm leaf manuscript,Nalanda,700-1100, Bihar.

By Asia Society created the file. Artwork created by an anonymous ancient source. – http://asiasocietymuseum.org/region_object.asp?RegionID=1&CountryID=2&ChapterID=10&ObjectID=479, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11441578

Padmasambhava,wall painting,14th century,Bhutan.

By Baldiri – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2164202

Brooklyn Museum - Bodhisattva Samantabhadra.jpg

Samantabhadra,painting,late 18th-early 19th century.

By Unknown – Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum; Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 1993.192.2_transp4510.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10967395

Skanda as portrayed by Zhao Mengfu,Yuan Dynasty,13th-14th century, China.

By Prajnyaapaaramitaa_Hridaya_by_Zhao_Meng_Fu.JPG: Zhao Meng Fuderivative work: Tengu800 (talk) – Prajnyaapaaramitaa_Hridaya_by_Zhao_Meng_Fu.JPG, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9608296

White Tara, Tibet, 1644-1911 AD - Sichuan Provincial Museum - Chengdu, China - DSC04498.jpg

White Tara,painting,1644-1911,Tibet, Sichuan Provincial Museum,China.

By Daderot – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51626216

Vajrapani, painting on one side of the Buddha, Cave 1,Ajanta,7th century,Maharashtra.

By Indischer Maler des 7. Jahrhunderts – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=153071

Vasudhara Mandala, by Jasaraja Jirili, Nepal, dated 1365. Sotheby's.jpg

Vasudhara mandala,14th century,Nepal.

By Jasaraja Jirili – Sotheby’s, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15195963







References :

  • Thomas, P/Epics, myths and legends of India, Bombay : D. B. Taraporevala and Sons.
  • wikipedia.org


Posted by :

Soma Ghosh


© author






Garuda in art : vehicle of Lord Vishnu


           Garuda is a humanoid-bird in Hindu and Buddhist mythology. Garuda is the vahana or vehicle/mount of Lord Vishnu. Garuda is often depicted as having a strong golden body of a  man with a white face, red wings, and an eagle’s beak and with a crown on his head. This ancient deity was said to be massive, large enough to block out the sun.  Garuda is the enemy of the nagas(serpents). He is an important deity and the Garudopanishad and Garuda-purana are dedicated to him. He is also called Chirada, Gaganeshvara, Kamayusha, Kashyapi, Khageshvara, Nagantaka, Sitanana, Sudhahara, Suparna, Tarkshya, Vainateya, Vishnuratha among others. He is referred to as Syena ,or eagle in the Vedas. He is believed to have brought nectar from heaven to earth.

   On  Garuda’s left wrist is the serpent Adisesha and on his right he wears the serpent Gulika; the serpent Vasuki forms his sacred thread. Takshaka, the cobra forms his belt and the serpent karkotaka is his necklace. Padma and Mahapadma are his ear rings.The snake Shankachuda adorns his divine hair. He  wives are  Rudraa and Sukirthi.

     Garuda plays an important role when  Krishna and Satyabhama ride on his back to kill Narakasura, a demon.  Lord Vishnu rides on Garuda to save his elephant-deveotee,Gajendra. It is believed that Garuda’s wings chant the vedas while flying.

        Garuda was born out of an egg laid by Vinata, one of the wives of Kashyapa; as per the Vishnu-purana the egg was laid by Diti and not Vinata.

     Garuda helped Lord Rama in his battle against Ravana. When Lord Rama, Lakshmana and the monkey battalion could not withstand the snake arrows or nagastras of Indrajit, Garuda supplied Garudastras or eagle-arrows. Garuda is considered the king of birds. His sons are Sampati and Jatayu as mentioned in the Ramayana. As per the Mahabaharata Garuda had six sons Sumukha, Suvarna, Subala, Sunaama, Sunethra and Suvarchas from whom descended the race of birds. In Buddhism the Garudas are enormous predatory, intelligent birds with social organisation.

     Garuda is an important deity across South Asia and is worshipped in many countries. Garuda is in the national emblem of Indonesia.

File:Garuda and naga, Tra Kieu, Quang Nam, 10th century, sandstone - Museum of Vietnamese History - Ho Chi Minh City - DSC06129.JPG

Garuda and naga,sandstone sculpture, 10th century,Tra Kieu, Quang Nam, Museum of Vietnamese History ,Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

By Daderot (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

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Vishnu on Garuda, bronze,12th century, Cambodia.

By Hiart (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

File:Garuda Vishnu Laxmi.jpg

Garuda,painting, Bundi,1730,Rajasthan,LACMA,USA.

By Unknown artist from Bundi, Rajasthan, India [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Depicted below is  Garuda,returning with the pot of  amrita, which he had stolen from the Gods in order to free his mother from Kadru, mother of serpents.

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Garuda,painting, 1825,South India.

By Unknown (production) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

File:Garuda by Ida Made Tlaga 19th c.jpg

Garuda,painting, 1880,Bali,Indonesia.

By Ida Made Tlaga in Sanur, Bali [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

COLLECTIE TROPENMUSEUM Wajangfiguur voorstellende Sangruda TMnr 15-954-40.jpg

Garuda depiction,1900,Bali, Indonesia.

By Tropenmuseum, part of the National Museum of World Cultures, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11032967




References :

  • wikipedia.org
  • Epics, myths and legends of India/Thomas, P, Bombay : D.B. Taraporevala and Sons.


Posted by :

Soma Ghosh

© author