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October 11, 2009

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Relaxed Guan Yin a rare sculpture

GUAN Yin is the most popular Buddhism figure in China and also the best known among Chinese people. Originally, Guan Yin was a prince but in China the figure is usually depicted as a woman and considered the Goddess of Mercy.

One Buddhist legend involves Guan Yin vowing to never rest until she had liberated all beings from reincarnation. But after struggling to comprehend the needs of so many, her head split into eleven pieces. Amitabha Buddha, seeing her plight, gave her eleven heads with which to hear the cries of the suffering.

The eleven faces usually have different facial expressions, including happy or smiling when she appreciates nice people doing good things, sad and angry, a strange laughing face and one reflecting the spirit of teaching Buddhism to ordinary people.

Guan Yin's image is usually depicted in sculpture as serious and standing upright. So that of her with a relaxed body displayed in Shanghai Museum was a rarety and reflected a style influenced by Tantric Buddhism that became popular in the late Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907).

The sculpture depicts a slender figure and graceful movements. She is holding a willow branch in her right hand and a precious bottle in her left. It is the most popular image of Guan Yin, as people believe that she dips the willow branch into the water and sprinkles drops to cure disease and clean souls and hearts.

Her robe looks to be floating in a breeze, enhancing the image that she is descending from heaven. There are 10 small heads delicately ranged on her head in three levels. Her posture makes the figure one of the most treasured in Shanghai Museum.


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