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Shadakshari Avalokiteshvara

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Bodhisattvas are Buddhist deities dedicated to helping all beings to achieve enlightenment, and Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Infinite Compassion, is one of the most popular deities throughout Asia. Avalokiteshvara appears in many forms, the Shadakshari ("Six-syllabled One") form representing the blessings of the mantra "OM MANI PADME HUM." Bodhisattvas are identified by their crowns, jewelry and fine robes, and this particular deity by the white color and four arms, two hands at the center in the gesture of greeting (Añjali Mudra), the proper, upper right hand holding a rosary, the upper left hand a lotus. Stylistic characteristics of the figures and certain decorative motifs link this painting with the lavish patronage of Tibetan Buddhist art by the imperial court of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). Among many Tibetan Buddhists, the Dalai Lama is believed to be a manifestation of this particular deity, and this thangka painting can be connected with the Gelug ("Virtuous") school with which he is associated, popularly known as the "Yellow Hat" school after the distinctive headwear worn by Gelug monks. Three important monks of this school appear in the upper left of the painting: Tsongkhapa (1357-1419), founder of the school, and his two most important disciples. Opposite these three in the upper right corner are the Three Longevity Deities: Amitayus Buddha, White Tara, and Ushnishavijaya. At the top center is the Buddha Amitabha, of which Shadakshari Avalokiteshvara is considered an emanation. Creating another trio with the central deity are Manjushri, Bodhisattva of Wisdom, at the left and Vajrapani, Bodhisattva of Power, at the right. At the bottom of the painting are three protector deities. Although they have unusual iconographic features, the figure at the left is probably Setrap, and the figure in the center is probably the "Black Horse" aspect of Dorje Shugden. At the right are the Five Long-life Sisters, with Tseringma at the center.