The most popular of the Bodhisattvas, Avalokiteshwara's appearance is dripping with spiritual magnificence. His head has split into eleven to enable him to divide his attention better among His devotees, much like the significance of his thousand arms (varying iconographies of Avalokiteshwara) that are meant to attend to each being that is in need of His help. The pristine complexion and the composure of countenance radiate a penetrating sense of the divine, befitting the arena of enlightenment that surrounds Him.
In this unusual black thangka from the Exotic India collection, the artist has depicted the Avalokiteshwara mandala to heavenly perfection. The deified residence of the Bodhisattva is portrayed as a sprawling mansion that contains His retinue of Panchtathagatas and three Buddhist deities comprising of Manjushri, Amitabha, and Vajrapani (from left to right of the viewer). The celestial palace radiates outward amidst luxuriant bodies of cloud painted in characteristic Chinese style.
The colour black is symbolic of primordial darkness in Tibetan art, the precursor to life itself. Darkness leads to light, shadows become colours, which translate to sound, which further projects life. The technique of painting with sharp, gold lines against the highly potent backdrop of black adds to the mysticism of Tibetan art. Each thangka is worked upon by at least eight monks who have been in practise for no less than three years. Its aesthetic appeal lies in the pregnant symbolicism and the flawless curvature of each motif present in a single work of art.
The trinity at the bottom of the thangka are credited with putting together the form of Avalokiteshwara as portrayed in this piece. When the enormity of suffering in this loka (realm of existence) caused His head to explode, Amitabha, Vajrapani, and Manjushri got together to reassemble the distressed Bodhisattva's body. The Panchatathagata (five Tathagatas) - their names are Akshobhya, Ratnasambhava, Vairochana, Amitabha, and Amogasiddhi - are seated in a row at the top of the thangka, each caught in a divine trance. Unlike historical figures such as the Buddha himself and Buddhist masters such as the likes of Guru Rinpoche, these deities, meant to heal the mind and the soul, are symbolic of the multifacetedness of the enlightened consciousness.