"Power of Compassion:
Paths of Transmission of Avalokiteśvara Across Asia."
Project Director; Co-Project Directors, Daniel Pitti and Worthy Martin.
Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities (IATH),
University of Virginia, 2008-present
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Description Commencing with the Mahāyāna movement that began around the beginning of the Common Era, Buddhism developed into a religion with a pantheon of many deities, called celestial buddhas and bodhisattvas. As the personification of compassion, Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva had enormous appeal and grew in significance to supersede almost all other Buddhist figures, except Śākyamuni, the Historical Buddha. Following the transmission of Buddhism via both land and maritime routes, the cult of Avalokiteśvara spread throughout Asia, adapting to various cultural, local traditions and evolving into a multifaceted figure with many different names and forms of manifestations. Traces of this fascinating phenomenon are evident in both text and art. Buddhist texts were transmitted, translated, and interpreted locally, while art objects representing Avalokiteśvara differed from region to region, stylistically and iconographically.
The goal of the Avalokiteśvara Project is to develop a conceptual understanding of the spread of this cultic deity, spatially and temporally, as well as the patterns of this transmission by building a digital model that enables in-depth analysis and a richer understanding of this complex phenomenon. This is achieved through the creation of a virtual collection of art objects and textual descriptions pertaining to Avalokiteśvara, accompanied by detailed analysis of iconographic features and other kinds of information, such as dates, places, historical periods, materials, techniques, styles, and patronage.
Going beyond the basic level of cataloging and digitization of any single existing collection, the Avalokiteśvara Project will provide a centralized resource that allows users to search, view and study objects from geographically dispersed public and private collections, as well as those in situ, and check against descriptions in Buddhist texts. Users will be able to construct queries and displays based on specific iconographic features, materials, dates, places, and historical periods.