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Iconography of 108 Lokesvaras

Item Code: NAM627
Author: Min Bahadur Shakya
Publisher: Akhil Book Distributors, Delhi
Language: English
Edition: 2011
ISBN: 9789937231251
Pages: 190 (134 Color Illustrations)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5 inch x 5.5 inch
Weight 330 gm
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Book Description
About the Book

The present monograph is the continuation of the small work published in 1979 by Young Men’s Buddhist Association (YMBA)on the occasion of Lumbini year. At that time only line drawings of 108 forms of Lokesvaras are given in the booklet called Icons of 108 Lokesvaras. Those line drawings were replicas of the pictures drawn by the late Mr. Siddhimuni Shakya, displayed at Janabaha in Kathmandu.


About the Author

Min Bahadur Shakya is a scholar of Newar and Tibetan Buddhism. Among his major publications are A Short History of Buddhism in Nepal, 1984; A Introduction to Buddhist Monasteries of Kathmandu Valley, 1986; Iconography of Nepalese Buddhism, 1994kk; Princess Bhirikuti Devi, 1997; Boudhnath Stupa, 2000; Sacred Art of Nepal, 2000; The Life of the Nepalese Buddhist Master Buddhabhadra, 2009; Iconography of 108 Lokesvaras, 2011,(the present work). He has been involved in the translation of Buddhist sutras and commentaries, like Sri Svayambhu Mahacaitya in English; Avadana Kalpalata in Neplabhasa, to name just a few. He also served as a president of YMBA for 1979-84. He was elected Vice President of World Fellowship of Buddhist Youth WFBY for the years 1984-1988. In 1990, he was granted a SAARC Fellowship (Buddhist Studies) by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Thimpu, Bhutan. He has also contributed more than a dozen research papers in reputed foreign journals. Since 1986, he has been teaching in Engineering Institute, Pulchowk Campus, Lalitpur. Presently he is the Director, Nagarjuna Institute of Exact Methods. He is also running the projects of Digital Sanskrit Buddhist Canon (DSBC)and Buddhist Nuns Education Project(BNEP).



I am very delighted to know that Young Men's Buddhist Association (YMBA) , Nepal, is publishing a revered text entitled, Iconography of 108 Lokesvaras. I, on behalf of the entire Bhiksu Sangha would like to appreciate and congratulate YMBA's noble and virtuous en- deavor for this great publication. I hope YMBA will always continue Dharma activities in this holy land of Buddha's birth for the benefit of all sentient beings.

Avalokitesvara, also known as Karunamaya in vernacular language, is extremely popular and venerated in the Kathmandu valley. There are many festivals, many traditional rituals and devotional hymns (stotra) and so forth dedicated to Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara in Nepal.

This holy book dedicated to one hundred and eight Lokesvaras will certainly encourage and inspire all the people to generate com- passion for all suffering sentient beings as taught by Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. The incomparably great compassionate Sakyamuni Buddha had accomplished all the thirty great perfections (paramitas) for four countless aeons ever since he made a great vow before the great noble Dipankara Buddha to attain unsurpassable and full enlightenment (anuttara samyak sambodhi) for the benefit all sentient beings.

In this way, innumerable Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, out of great compassion, appear in this world to liberate suffering and ignorant sentient beings who are indulged in unwholesome activities and wrong views.

May this holy Dharma book inspire and guide all devotees to practice the Buddhadharma steadfastly by developing wisdom and compassion.

May the Triple Gem (triratna) or Buddha, Dharma and Sangha protect and bless all of us.

May the Noble Dharma last longer for the happiness of all.



The present monograph is the continuation of the small work published in 1979 by Young Men's Buddhist Association (YMBA), Nepal on the occasion of the Lumbini year. At that time only line drawings of 108 forms of Lokesvaras were published in the booklet called Icons of 108 Lokesvaras. Those line drawings were replicas of the pictures drawn by the late Mr. Siddhimuni Shakya, displayed at janabaha in Kathmandu.

Another set of line drawings of 108 Lokesvaras were made and engraved in gilded copper plates more recently, and also exhibited at Janabaha.

Similarly, Pandita Amoghavajra Vajracarya published his book entitled Astottarasata Lokesvara Paricaya in Nepalbhasa with some thirty five stories or legends connected with these Lokesvaras. It was published by Lokesvara Sangha, Nepal, and was sponsored by Mr. Hidenobu Takaoka. While exploring the sadhanas, legends and stories of these Lokesvaras, the author has focused mainly on the Gunakarandavyuha, Svayambhu Purana, Nispannayogavali, Sadhanamala and so forth.

It is to be noted that the tradition of depicting many different forms of Lokesvara is found not only in janabaha but also seen in the struts of Chusyabaha in Kathmandu, Caturbrahmavihara in Bhaktapur, and Nalakarunamaya in Banepa. The depiction of twelve Lokesvaras in bronze sculpture is also found in Hiranyavarna Mahavihara, Patan. It seems that the one hundred and eight Lokesvaras and their representations are unique to the Kathmandu valley. The recitation of a stotra dedicated to one hundred and eight Lokesvaras is still carried out at Janabaha during the bathing ceremony of the daily rituals of the temple. It is also to be noted that the names of the one hundred and eight Lokesvaras have appeared in six different stauas. Here I have listed them according to the system of Pandita Amogh Vajra Vajracarya.

Historically speaking, Padmapani Lokesvara had become popular in Nepal as early as the sixth century and the cult of Avalokitesvara by the early seventh century, during the reign of King Narendradeva (643-680 A.D) in the Kathmandu Valley. The presence of a large number of images of various forms of Lokesvaras during the Lichchavi period (464-880 A.D) alone is remarkable.

Since the cult of Avalokitesvara is also popular in South Asia and East Asia, the publication of a book of this nature, I hope, will definitely enhance the cultural unity of these countries. The way in which the personality of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara is transformed into Kuan Yin, a female deity form, in China is an interesting story. How Chinese Buddhists developed strong faith and devotion to this form of Bodhisattva is a legend in itself. A recent finding by Prof. Peter Skilling mentions that the Thai-Chinese ethnic group has a strong cultural tradition of paying homage to Kuan yin Pusa for blessings and long life even in Thailand.

It is true that there are few publications devoted entirely to the arts of Newar origin in the Kathmandu valley. The publications by Hugo E. Krieger and Arts of Nepal by Pratapaditya Pal are worth mentioning.

My heartfelt thanks must be extended to Mr. Hubert Decleer for providing many good suggestions on how to improve this work through illustrations. Thanks also go to Dr. David N. Gellner who provided their energetic efforts in editing the initial draft of the text. I owe a great debt of gratitude to them.

I would like to thank Mr. Lok Chitrakar who provided me with his twelve beautiful paintings of Lokesvaras in different forms including Cintamani Lokesvara.

I'd also like to thank my son Milan Shakya, who laboriously took pains in preparing the index, formatting the text and in preparing final press-ready copy. Without his help this monograph would not have reached this form.

Finally, I would like to thank Mr. Ujay Bajracharya, the coordinator of this publication, who provided me with his own paintings for this collection and also assisted in the speedy publication of this monograph.



1.1 The Lokesvara Ideal

The most important objects of worship in the Buddhist traditions are images of celebrated Buddhas; in the Mahayana, the Great Vehicle, images of the Bodhisattvas are also venerated. Among the Bodhisattvas, Avalokitesvara in particular is regarded as the embodiment of great compassion. He has been widely revered throughout all the Buddhist lands of Asia, wherever and whenever the teachings of the Mahayana have been followed, since the beginning of the Common Era.

The study of Avalokitesvara and his forms is of great importance for the student of Buddhism. In the Mahayana pantheon as it developed in India, and thereafter in Nepal, Tibet, Japan, Mongolia, China, Vietnam and Korea, Avalokitesvara assumes various forms as the protector and savior of all living beings. This multitude of forms expresses the power and diversity of Avalokitesvaras vow to assist living beings.

Avalokitesvaras talent for assuming various forms as an expedient means is explained in the well-known chapter in the Lotus Sutra (Saddharmapundarika), the 'Universal Gate' (Samantamukhaparivarta): It also seems that those Bodhisattvas who are affiliated with Lokesvararaja Tathagata are called 'Lokesvara' according to the Sukhavativyuha, a Mahayana scripture describing the Pure Land associated with Avalokitesvara.

Etymologically, the Sanskrit word Lokesvara is a compound comprised of two words, i. e. loka + isvara = Lokesvara, lord of the world. In all forms of Buddhism the concept of an Isvara or creator God's inherent existence is denied and refuted at the philosophical level. However, in common parlance, the Newar Buddhists of Nepal can regard any Bodhisattva or savior figure as a Lokesvara. It should be made clear that all forms of Avalokitesvara belong to the general category of 'world savior', Lokesvara, but not all Lokesvaras are forms of Avalokitesvara.

As many as three hundred and sixty forms of Lokesvara are venerated in hymns or stavas. This book describes the iconography and legends of one hundred and eight forms of Lokesvara, which are commonly depicted as a group in Nepal. Most, though not all, of the 108 forms of Lokesvara have been transmitted with iconographic details. Among these one hundred and eight forms of Lokesvara are important figures which can be classified not only as Bodhisattvas but as Buddhas and tantric deities such as Vajrasattva, Sitatapatra, and others.

We can tentatively conclude that in the most general terms, a "Lokesvara" can be a Bodhisattva, Buddha or other deity who out of great compassion makes altruistic vows to work for the welfare and benefit of all sentient beings. Such a figure may be tantric or non- tantric, male or female-in short, any figure who works to benefit living beings.

1.2 Some scriptural sources on Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara Let us look briefly at the development of Avalokitesvara, the most prominent of those who may be called Lokesvara, in scriptural texts. The earliest scripture containing the name of Avalokitesvara that was translated into Chinese is the Ugrapariprccha-sutra translated by An Xuan and Yan Fotiao during the later Han dynasty (c. 180 C.E).2 Avalokitesvara appears in the opening portion of the early Vimalakirtinirdesa, and in many other early Simas, in a list of Bodhisattvas gathered to hear the teaching. These teachings on the Mahayana were given by the Lord Buddha to those capable of understanding and following them. Avalokiresvara continues to be represented in the audience for such teachings up to relatively late texts such as the Anantamukhanirhara- dharani- sutra. In such texts, his name appears in a long list of Bodhisattva names, and his identity in these texts can be confirmed by comparison with Tibetan and Chinese versions of the text.

In the Prajnaparamitahrdaya, Avalokitesvara is the preacher of the perfection of wisdom (prajna-paramita).

Avalokiresvara's teachings on prajnaparamita conform to those given by Buddha Sakyamuni and came to be widely circulated as the Prajnaparamitahrdaya or Heart Sutra.

In the Saddharmapundarika, dating back to the first or second century C. E., we meet Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, already in his full glory, described as the almighty savior of sentient beings from all dangers and disasters. It devotes a full chapter to Avalokitesvara, which explains the Bodhisattva's name, the dangers that he can dispel, and the myriad forms in which he may appear to aid devotees. In the Surra, Lord Sakyamuni Buddha teaches that this name arises from the Bodhisattva's pledge to heed the call of any suffering being who cries out his name and to appear before him in rescue. The dangers and difficulties that Avalokitesvara can counter are fire, drowning in a river, being lost at sea, murder, demonic attack, fierce beasts, noxious snakes or insects, legal punishment, attacks by bandits, falling off steep precipices, extreme weather and others." In several other Sutras, such as the Sitrangama, Avalokitesvara is said to have thirty-two or even innumerable transformation bodies. As a high-level Bodhisattva, he is able to assume such bodies to assist others.

In the Sukhavativyitha-sutra, the main Buddha, Amitabha, is described to be flanked by two important Bodhisattvas, namely Avalokitesvara on the right and Mahasthamaprapta on the left. He is represented as the principal attendant of the Buddha Amitabha in the Sukhavati Buddha-field. Among his various functions, Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara guides devotees from their earthly death-bed to rebirth in Sukhavari.

The Amitayurdhyana-sutra, another scripture on the Pure Land of Sukhavati, provides an extensive description of Avalokitesvara in a multifaceted visualization practice leading to rebirth in this Pure Land. After a devotee has clearly visualized the Buddha Amitayus, namely, Amitabha, if he wishes to see Avalokitesvara, he envisages him as follows:

... His height is eighty kotis of nayutas of yojanas multiplied by the number of the sands of the Ganges. His body is the color of purple-gold, and on the top of his head is a mound surrounded by an aureole with a radius of a hundred thousand yojanas, in which there are five hundred transformed Buddhas. Each trans- formed Buddha resembles Sakyamuni, and is attended by five hundred transformed bodhisattvas and innumerable devas. In the light emanating from his entire body are seen the sentient beings of the five realms of Samsara in all their distinct physical forms. On his head he wears a heavenly crown made of Sakra-abhilagna-mani-gems, on which stands a transformed Buddha (Amitayus) measuring twenty-five yojanas in height.

The face of the Bodhisattva Avalokiresvara is the color of gold from the Jambu River, while the tuft of hair between his eyebrows has the colors of the seven jewels, and from it issue forth eighty-four thousand different rays of light. In each of these rays dwell innumerable and uncountable hundreds of thousands of transformed Buddhas, each attended by count- less transformed bodhisattvas, all of whom manifest in various forms at will, filling completely the worlds of the ten quarters. Avalokitesvara's arms are the color of red lotus-flowers. They emit eighty kotis of exquisite rays of light in the shape of ornaments, in which are reflected all the glorious objects of that land. The palms of his hands are the color of five hundred kotis of various lotus-flowers.




  Foreword i
  Goodwill Message iii
  Acknowledgement v
  Preface vii
  List of Plates x
  Metal repousse images of 108 Lokesvaras on the temple wall of Janabaha, Kathmandu xv-xli
I Introduction: Scriptural Sources 1-16
II Buddhas 17-19
III The Eight Great Bodhisattvas 20-34
IV Manifold Forms of Avalokitesvara 35-67
V Forms of Lokesvara Associated with the Twelve Months 68-96
VI Six Mantric Forms of Avalokitesvara 97-113
VII Forms of the Sixteen Bodhisattvas of the Dharrnadhatu Mandala 114-121
VIII Miscellaneous forms 122-127
  Notes & References 128-135
  Bibliography 137-140
  Index 141-145


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