Top items – the Bodhisattva of compassion

01.11.2016 | Another artefact which is among the most important in the National Museum’s collections is a wooden statuette of the Bodhisattva of Compassion, referred to as Kuan Yin in Chinese.

Kuan-Yin is one of the most popular deities of the Buddhist pantheon in China. From its country of origin Buddhism spread relatively fast, and found its followers in the Land of the Red Dragon around the 1st century CE. The Indian Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara was a being who, despite achieving liberation from the Wheel of Life, nevertheless decided to be born again to help others. The Chinese Kuan-Yin is a female form of this deity. In China the deity’s representation acquired a female form, possibly because of the jewellery which is typical for Bodhisattvas in India and which might have seemed a female attribute. This is why Kuan-Yin is always depicted as a beautiful young woman.

In China, the Bodhisattva is popular especially among women, probably because of the empathy and protectiveness that women can identify with. The popularity of Kuan-Yin has survived to this day and the deity is depicted in many forms. To give an example, when the Portuguese missionaries brought Christianity to China in the 16th century, this Bodhisattva began to be depicted as the Virgin Mary, clad in a veil, often with a baby in her arms.

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