In the 11th century, Muslim invasions forced monks and artisans to leave northwest India for the Guge kingdom in western Tibet. In this way, art in western Tibet inherited the northwest Indian tradition that is characterised by wide faces and flat facial features. Other features include simple garment design and lotus petals and halos placed behind the figures.
Thangka of Avalokiteshvara and Two Offering Goddesses
Western Tibet, 15th century
Pigment and gold on cloth, H. 43 x W. 67 cm
The Avalokiteshvara is seated on red lotus petals in the True Sitting pose (Sattvaparyanka asana), his right hand holding a strand of prayer beads over his heart. His left hand clasps the thin stalk of a deep red lotus that is in full bloom above his left shoulder. He wears the crown, jewellery and dhoti of Indian royal apparel as well as a white cloth veil behind his crown. His head is surrounded by an ovoid red nimbus with radiant gold flames. Such representations were popular in Kashmiri art and thus inherited by the Guge Kingdom in western Tibet.
The two goddesses which flank Avalokiteshvara also have an ovoid red nimbus with a discreet gold outline, while their voluptuous blue bodies are seated on gold lotus petals within a spherical aura of gold and white. The goddess Vajrapushpa (Vajra Flower), to the left of Avalokiteshvara, has her two hands positioned to hold the long stalk of a lotus plant with three red blossoms capturing her gaze. The goddess to the right of Avalokiteshvara, Vajramala (Vajra Garland), has her left hand poised in the vajra fist. Both goddesses and Avalokiteshvara have their palms adorned with henna as a sacred mark of piety.