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Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara (Guanyin) with 11 heads

Tang dynasty
Empress Wu reign

H: 108.8 W: 31.7 D: 15.3 cm
Xi'an, China

Gift of Charles Lang Freer F1909.98

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Esoteric (Vahrayana) Buddhism employs rituals and magic spells and features multiheaded and multiarmed deities. This form of Buddhism was popular in China during the Tang dynasty (618–907), when this image of Guanyin, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, was made under imperial patronage. Eleven heads represent the stages of enlightenment. The sensuous sculptural style reflects Indian influence. This sculpture adorned the Seven Jewels Pagoda that was built in the Tang capital (modern day Xi'an).

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