Head of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, 300s-400s
Afghanistan or Pakistan, Gandhara, late Kushan Period (1st century-320)
By this period, individual bodhisattvas were beginning to be revered as ideal figures who would deliberately postpone their own enlightenment and entrance into final nirvana, which is a state from which no one returns to be reborn into this world. Bodhisattvas accomplish all but the final meditation leading to full enlightenment, but they are considered to be so advanced in their practice and realization that they have the ability to control their rebirth and act in righteous and compassionate ways to help others achieve enlightenment.
Because the remains of a lotus pedestal on which a Buddha sat is at the center of the diadem, this head can be identified as that of the Bodhisattva of Compassion. The idealized linearity of the brows and eyes along with the formalized waves of hair give an ethereal quality to the otherwise naturalistic face.
Text and image credit: The Cleveland Museum of Art