This sculpture represents the bodhisattva commonly known as Avalokiteshvara or Padmapani. The former name means ‘the lord who sees on all sides’, and the latter ‘lotus-in-hand.’ Indeed, the lotus is most distinctive attribute, supported here on his left shoulder. In Nepal, he is popularly known by a third designation ‘Lokeshvara’, meaning ‘lord of the world.’
The youthful figure of Lokeshvara stands on a pedestal supported by snow-lions, while his feet rest on an inverted lotus. A dhoti clings to his lower limbs while the flowing edges of his scarf can be seen entwining his form. A distinctive feature is the figure of Buddha in his crown which represents Amitabha, the spiritual father of Lokeshvara. Behind the deity is a faming red aureole, signifying the all-consuming fire of wisdom.
The preferred metal for casting religious icons in Kathmandu valley is nearly always copper, and that too gilded with 24 karat gold. The gilding method used is known as 'mercury gilding' in which an amalgam of gold and mercury is applied to the surface of the sculpture with a brush, and then high heat is applied via a torch and the mercury is burned off, leaving the pure gold, which is then burnished to a high gloss. This method, though in use since ancient times, is not a particularly safe method since the process of burning off the mercury produces a lethal vapor. The exact composition and proportion of this mercury gold amalgam used in gilding copper sculptures is a closely guarded secret, known only to the traditional artists themselves.
This sculpture was created in the city of Patan.
In Tibetan iconography, the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara has three principal forms:
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