Eleven-faced Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara



12th–13th century






132×94 cm




State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia
Inv. Kh–2355

Additional Research Metadata


Ekādaśamukha Avalokiteśvara – eleven-faced, eight-armed Avalokiteśvara – is seated on a lotus throne with two rows of petals. His faces are arranged in a pyramid: three rows of three, with one ‘wrathful’ face above them and at the very top the red face of Amitābha with a tall uṣnīṣa. The main hands are in the añjali mudrā (gesture of reverence) and hold the treasure ‘fulfilment of wishes’. The right hands hold rosaries, make a gesture of goodwill and hold the dharmacakra or wheel of the Law. The left hands hold a white lotus, a vessel with holy water and a bow and arrows. The iconography of the bodhisattva, the form of the throne and the appearance of the other figures derive from the Tibetan tradition: the five Buddhas in the top row are Tibetan in style. The throne is of the Indian Pala-Sena type (8th to 12th century). Behind the mandorla to right and left are two monks, both making gestures of explanation and teaching, the vyākhyāna mudrā. They might be identified as Ananda and Mahākāśyapa, Buddha’s disciples, although they can be differentiated only by their ages: one is young, with a grotesque expression on his face, the other is old and benevolent. Arranged symmetrically in the vertical rows are the four lokapālas, Guardians of the Directions. In the lower row, on a single lotus throne, are red Hayagrīva, one embodiment of Avalokiteśvara, with a horse’s head in his hair, white Sitātapatra (a female deity who wards off danger) with a ‘tiger’ parasol, yellow Mārīcī with a white fly whisk and green Tārā with a blue lotus. In neither composition nor iconography does this tangka accord fully with any known sādhanā or guide to meditation. The only analogy to the unusual combination of Avalokiteśvara and Buddha’s two disciples is found in a work of the 9th–10th century from Dunhuang (Serindia 1995, pl.208).


From the expedition of Pyotr Kozlov 1907–9


Oldenburg 1914, no.38; Lost Empire 1993, no.12; Samosyuk 2006, no.112



“Eleven-faced Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara,” Telling the Sogdian Story , accessed September 26, 2020, http://sogdians.nyufasedtech.com/items/show/233.