Standing resplendent against a black background is Avalokiteshvara, displaying his ten-headed, thousand-armed form. The eleven heads signify the eight directions as well as the three vertical divisions of top, middle, and bottom. This manifestation of Avalokiteshvara is thought to have been influenced by the eleven manifestations of the popular Hindu god Shiva, known as the ekadasha (eleven) Rudras. The Buddhist myth that explains the origin of this complex image stresses the universal compassion that this deity embodies. It is said that once he was so moved by the sufferings of sentient beings that his head split into ten pieces. The Buddha Amitabha turned each of them into a complete head and, added his own at the apex and, hence, the number eleven. Avalokiteshvara was therefore able to watch over all the ten directions at once.
As per his usual iconography, the heads are arranged in a pyramid with three rows, ten of the heads are benign and one is ferocious, representing Avalokiteshvara's wrathful form, which is capped by the serene head of Amitabha.
The first two arms of Avalokiteshvara hold a wish-fulfilling gem, a symbol of the deepest powers of the human psyche. The next five hold a lotus, a vase, a rosary, a wheel. and a bow and arrow. The eighth holds the palm open in a gesture of generosity. The remaining 992 arms are placed like an aureole around the bodhisattva. Each of the hands has an eye in its palm, symbolic of his all encompassing compassion.
Of Related Interest:
Eleven Headed Thousand Armed Avalokiteshvara (Tibetan Thangka Painting)
Eleven Headed Thousand Armed Avalokiteshvara (Brass Statue)
Eleven Headed Thousand Armed Avalokiteshvara (Antiquated Sterling Silver Pendant)