While precolonial Southeast Asia is often regarded as a passive recipient of Indic culture, little attention has been given to cultural flows going in the other direction. One form of the saviour figure Avalokiteshvara emerged in the Malay Archipelago long before other parts of Asia. This form has eight arms, and is called Amoghapasha ("lasso that never fails"…to rescue people in peril).
After rising in Srivijaya, the eight-armed form travelled to the Sinosphere and the Khmer Empire. Almost half a millennium later, Amoghapasha finally arrrived on the Indian Subcontinent, worshipped at a temple in Nepal founded by the famous monk Atisha. The bodhisattva makes one last appearance at the centre of a Malayo-Javanese war, which, as the Malay Annals tells it, led to the founding of Singapura. In this lecture new findings on the origin, evolution and symbolism of the Avalokiteshvara with eight arms are presented in public for the first time.
About the speaker
Iain Sinclair is a Visiting Fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. He has a PhD from the School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies at Monash University. He specialises in the study of Himalayan and Southeast Asian art and religion, using classical languages.
Image: Eight-armed Amoghapasha. Java, 900–950. Discovered at either Prambanan or Dieng Plateau and acquired by Stamford Raffles, British Museum [1859,1228.75]; Donated by Rev. William Charles Raffles Flint, executor of Lady Raffles' estate; displayed in the Raffles in Southeast Asia exhibition at ACM. Photograph by Iain Sinclair.