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Thousand-armed Avalokitesvara, Niche 9, Beishan Rock Carvings (北山石刻) Anderl, Christoph


This niche is located in Beishan Rock Carvings (北山石刻), Fowan (佛灣), Dazu (大足) District, Chongqing. A Thousand-armed Avalokitesvara (Thousand-armed Guanyin; Chinese: 千手觀音) with a Han-style robe sitting in a European posture is carved on the central wall. Its headdress contains a small Buddha seated on a lotus throne. Forty-two arms, including 8 in the façade and 17 on each side of the body, are carved on this statue. Most of them are damaged. The pair of arms on top of its head holds a small Buddha statue seated on a lotus throne with a peach-shaped nimbus. This pair of arms, the face of Avalokitesvara and the pair of arms on the bodhisattva's chest are covered with gold foil. The peach-shaped head halo of Avalokitesvara is decorated with lotus petals, diamonds alternate with circular shapes and flame patterns. At the same time, its oval body nimbus is adorned with palms with eyes, diamonds alternate with circular shapes, and flame patterns. Two smaller figures flanking Avalokitesvara are kneeling on a single knee. The head of the figure on the left of Avalokitesvara holding a bowl in its right hand has been destroyed. The one on the right carries a bag with both hands. Addtionally, a pair of feitian 飛天 (Sanskrit: apsaras) is depicted on top of Avalokitesvara in the ceiling. The left side wall contains four layers of carvings from top to bottom. Each layer has two sets of carvings trimmed with auspicious cloud frames. The inner set of the first layer on the top contains five buddha images, while the outer group has three half-body images, of which the middle one has an ox face. A six-armed, three-faced deity riding a peacock is depicted in the inner set of the second layer, while that of the outer set contains three bodhisattva-like figures, of which the middle one riding a lion. The inner set of the third layer has a bodhisattva alike figure flanked by two unknown images. Two guardian deities are depicted in the outer set of this layer. Finally, the bottom layer has three images: a laywoman, a guardian deity, and a badly damaged figure. The right side wall also contains four layers of carvings from top to bottom. The setting and design of each layer is similar to that of the left side wall. The inner set of the first layer on the top contains five buddha images, while the outer set has a half-body figure holding a large bag with its right hand. A six-armed-three-face deity riding an ox is depicted in the inner set of the second layer, while that of the outer group shows a cross-legged figure sitting on an elephant and flanking by two images. The head of the central figure and the attendant on its right-hand side are damaged. A servant taming the elephant is depicted in front of the animal. The inner and outer sets of the third layer are similar to the corresponding settings on the left side wall. Finally, the bottom layer depicts three figures. The inner one is an elderly person holding a staff, the middle one with flame patterns body nimbus is unidentified, and the outer one is badly damaged. Eight vertical lines of inscriptions about the construction of this niche dated to the Late Tang are found near the bottom left of the niche frame. Only 43 characters can be identified. Source: Dazu shike yanjiuyuan 大足石刻研究院. Dazu shike quanji 大足石刻全集 [Dazu Rock Carvings] Edited by Li Fangyin 黎方銀. 10 vols. Vol. 1-1, Chongqing: Chongqing chubanshe, 2018, p. 73. Descriptions of the photos: Overview of the niche and the surrounding environment [1] Overview of the niche [2] Close-up of the Thousand-armed Avalokitesvara [3] Right side wall [4] Feitian images on ceiling [5] Left side wall [6] Third layer of left side wall [7] First and second layers of left side wall [8] Attendant on left of Thousand-armed Avalokitesvara [9] First layer of right side wall [10] Second layer of right side wall [11] Third layer of right side wall [12] Fourth layer of right side wall [13] Attendant on the right of the Thousand-armed Avalokitesvara [14] Metadata created by: Sau Ling Wendy Yu.

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