Thousand-armed Kannon (Avalokitesvara) and Twenty-eight Attendants


Thousand-armed Kannon (Avalokitesvara) and Twenty-eight Attendants

Paintings / Kamakura

Kamakura period, 13th century

Color on silk



Kannon, or Avalokitesvara in Sanskrit, is a bodhisattva who endeavors to help all sentient beings. The deity takes many forms, but the most powerful manifestation is probably Senju Kannon, or the Thousand-armed Avalokitesvara.

As the name suggests, the deity has 1,000 arms, with an eye in the palm of each hand. The thousand arms and eyes represent Kannon's boundless compassion; they symbolize how the deity will protect all beings and hear all prayers. This image has a total of 42 arms, with two clasped together in front of the chest and a further 20 on each side. These 40 arms on the left and right are said to each cover 25 different realms, from heaven down to hell. This means, in effect, that the deity wields the power of 1,000 arms.

Each hand holds objects symbolic of Kannon's power. These include edifying sutras and weapons to vanquish evil, such as bows and swords.

Also noteworthy are the eleven smaller faces perched on top of the head. These symbolize how the deity is watching over us in all directions.

Senju Kannon is accompanied by attendants, some of whom trace their origins back to ancient Indian gods. Each attendant has its own unique appearance. The figures standing vigilant on the left and right in the front row, for example, are Nio. These guardians are commonly found standing at temple gates. There are 28 guardian deities here in total, including Bishamon Ten, Taishaku Ten, and Ashura.

The Wind and Thunder Gods can also be seen attending Senju Kannon at the top of the painting. This iconography portrays both the power of the deities and the deep compassion of the Thousand-armed Avalokitesvara, which is enhanced by the power of these deities.

Other highlights are the portrayal of Kannon's beautiful and gentle face as well as the refined, meticulous depiction of his figure.

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