About the Artwork

This complex painting by the Newar artist Raju Shakya depicts Red Avalokiteshvara in his thousand-armed and hundred and twenty-one headed form as Sristhikanta Lokeshvara. This is an extremely rare form of this Bodhisattva of Great Compassion, which to my knowledge has only ever been painted several times over the past few centuries.

Sristhikanta Lokeshvara appears here in his vishvarupa or 'all-pervading form', with a thousand extended arms and a hundred and twenty-one heads. He stands upright upon the seed-head of an open lotus, and his radiant red body is adorned with lower garments of multicolored silk; a long green scarf that billows about his body and sides; a white sash that loops around his chest; and Lokeshvara's characteristic emblem of a deerskin, which is draped over his left shoulder. He wears the golden ornaments of necklaces; bracelets, armlets and anklets; jeweled earrings and five-jeweled crowns, and around his neck hangs a long green serpent as a sacred thread, and a long garland of silver jasmine flowers.

His hundred and twenty-one varicolored heads are arranged in a pyramid of eleven tiers, which ascend in horizontal levels of twenty-one, nineteen, seventeen, fifteen, thirteen, eleven, nine, seven, five, three and one to create a stacked assembly of a hundred and twenty-one heads or faces. Each of these heads has a peaceful expression, with two eyes and a five-jewel crown – except for the wrathful three-eyed green head at the top; and the upper tier of five heads, with its green central head flanked by the heads of a green monkey and a red elephant to the right, and a white lion and a red boar to the left. The seated form of red Amitabha Buddha crowns Lokeshvara's pyramid of heads, with a canopy of twenty-five white naga-serpents enclosing the green halo that surrounds his pyramid of ascending heads.

Lokeshvara's thousand arms are all extended to form a fan-like arrangement of nine concentric circles. The first circle consists of twenty main arms; with his two principal right and left hands making the varada-mudra of supreme generosity and holding the stem of an open white lotus, while his other eighteen hands hold white lotus buds. All of these eighteen bud-holding hands point upwards; except for his second right hand, which makes the downward facing abhaya-mudra of protection.

The next three concentric circles consist of twenty-four, twenty-six, and fifty secondary branch hands, which overlap loosely to form a broad ring of a hundred open-palmed hands. In the palms of these hands rest the forms of eight animals and ninety-two varicolored gods, all of who kneel facing inwards with their palms-folded in adoration to Lokeshvara. The fifth circle consists of seventy-two secondary branch hands that each holds a different ritual implement, auspicious attribute or weapon. The four outer circles contain Lokeshvara's remaining eight hundred and eight minor branch hands, which are arranged in four equal rows of two hundred and two hands that extend behind his legs and his pyramid of heads. Each of these small hands makes the varada-mudra of generosity or 'method', with the eye in each of its open palms representing Lokeshvara's all-seeing 'wisdom' aspect.

© text by Robert Beer

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