Carving of Child Giving (Songze) Guanyin
Item No. 16057
18th - 19th Century, Buddhist, China
16" x 6" x 5"
( 40.64 x 15.24 x 12.7 cm)
(H x W x D)
As the Bodhisattva of Compassion, Guanyin has numerous manifestations. In this image she is portrayed as the Songze Guanyin (Guanyin who gifts sons to mothers) the manifestation in which she is represented as a maternal figure holding a baby in her arms. The power to grant children, one of the many powers of Guanyin, is described in Chapter 25 of the Lotus Sutra which states that a woman desiring a son, after making
“…worshipful offerings to the Bodhisattva (Guanyin) shall straightway bare a son of happiness, excellence and wisdom. If she be desirous… of having a daughter, she shall straightway bare a daughter, upright and endowed with proper marks, who is loved and honored by a multitude of men.” (1)
Although this Sutra includes a reference to female offspring, traditionally, the Songze Guanyin is traditionally portrayed with a male child, which reflects the Confucian desire for male heirs.
Songze Guanyin is considered a variant of the White-robed Guanyin, the most popular manifestation of Guanyin during the Ming Dynasty in China, especially from the 14th to 16th centuries. The Songzi Guanyin was worshiped as much by the upper class court figures and the literati and by men as by lower caste woman. The White-Robed Guanyin Sutra that was written during the Ming Dynasty to further popularize the cult of Guanyin, stated
“…This sutra was taught by the Buddha and whoever chanted it would obtain fulfillment of all his heart’s desire. If (one) wanted to have a son, he would be able to receive a son of great wisdom and the baby would be born miraculously wrapped in a white caul. “(2)
The Songze Guanyin is a symbol of the “ Giver of Children” and the “Dispenser of Fecundity”. In popular Chinese belief, the blood of both menstruation and childbirth is spiritually polluting (3). Thus, although women were viewed as significant in their role of providing offspring in China, they were isolated during events relating to bearing of children. The image of Guanyin became especially significant to women because she was an all accepting deity of her followers, both male and female and because she is credited with assisting women in becoming pregnant, protecting women during childbirth, and protecting unborn and born children.
In this image, Guanyin holds a diminutive child in her lap with both hands and glances down at it lovingly. During the 14th through 16th centuries, Jesuit and Portuguese missionaries visited China, and, having witnessed the magnificent carvings of the Guanyins there, asked the carvers to rendered depictions of Madonna and Child images to send back to northern Europe. The Chinese carvers, being exposed to statues in which a child rested on the lap of an adoring mother figure, then began to depict Guanyin in this way as well. Thus, in this image we see the blending of eastern and western cultures into a new iconographic form.
Guanyin sits on a lotus throne with a gold pointed aureole surrounding her head and body. The aureole, which is elaborately decorated with raised scroll forms indicates her status as an enlightened being and represents the diving light emanating from her. Enlightened beings such as Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and lohans are often seated on an open lotus, that represents enlightenment and mental purity. Just as the lotus which has its roots in mud but blossoms into a beautiful flower, an individual who may be impure has the potential to gain enlightenment and the perfect state through belief in the Buddhist dharma.
The carving has an inscription on it indicating it is the 24th year of Chia Chiang which date to the 19th century.
This image was originally placed on the home altar of a devout Buddhist.
Bagyalkakshmi, “The Creation of Goddess of Mercy from Avalokitesvara” in Across the Himalayan Gap, New Deli, Gyan Publishing House, 1998.
Anthony Flanagan, "Buddhism, An Introduction: Buddhist Symbols," www.buddhism.about.com//library
Eloise Hart, “Kuan Yin: Goddess of Mercy, Friend of Mankind,” Sunrise Magazine, December, 1984/January, 1985.
Chun-Fang Yu, "Kuan-yin: The Chinese Transformation of Avalokitesvara," New York, Columbia University Press, 2001. (1)
Chun-Fang Yu, “Kuan-yin: The Chinese Transformation of Avalokitesvara” in "Latter Days of the Law: Images of Chinese Buddhism 850-1850," Marsha Weidner, Ed. Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 1994, p.151-182.
Meher McArthur, "Reading Buddhist Art: An Illustrated Guide to Buddhist Signs and Symbols," London, Thames and Hudson, 2002.
Barbara Reed, “The Gender Symbolism of Kuan-yin Bodhisattva,” in Buddhism, Sexuality and Gender, Delhi, Sri Satguru Publications, 1992.(2,3).
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