The origin of the eleven-headed form of Avalokiteshvara is explained in the following legend:
Avalokiteshvara, the all pitying bodhisattva, descended into hell, converted the wicked, liberated them, and conducted them to Sukhavati, the paradise of his spiritual father, Amitabha.
He discovered, however, to his dismay, that for every culprit converted and liberated, another instantly took his place. Legend claims that his head split into ten pieces from grief and despair on discovering the extent of wickedness in the world, and the utter hopelessness of saving all mankind. Amitabha caused each piece to become a head, and placed the heads on the body of his spiritual son, Avalokitesvara. Nine of the heads have benign faces and are depicted in three rows; the tenth has an angry face, while the head at the top is that of Amitabha.
All the heads, except that of Amitabha, is crowned. In contrast to the floral crowns of the three rows of heads, the top wrathful head is adorned with a crown of skulls.