Known as the Bodhisattva of Mercy and Compassion, Kuan-yin is one of the most popular Buddhist deities in China. An enlightened being who deferred entrance into Buddhist paradise, Kuan-yin returned to the terrestrial world to help people free themselves from suffering. Originally conceived as asexual or male, Kuan-yin eventually became assigned female gender as indigenous cults began to redefine its identity. The indigenous Chinese "Mother Goddess" brings children to the faithful; hence, the child is an iconographic feature of Kuan-yin. In addition, the virtues of compassion and gentleness are more associated with the female gender.
In this image of Kuan-yin, the sculptor emphasizes the gentle nature of the deity by rendering its features with great delicacy and beauty. Rather than the monumental and blocky style characteristic of Sung period stone sculpture, Kuan-Yin is here depicted with a style characteristic or later periods .in which the Goddess is given a light, celestial feel perhaps influenced by Western Virgin Mary imagery. With long, arched conjoined eyebrows leading into a flattened aquiline nose surmounting a small pursed mouth, Kuan-yin possesses both. the features of a beautiful woman and divine Goddess. Fleshy earlobes symbolizing Buddhist generosity project from the lower cheeks--a distinctive feature of this piece. The hair is neatly swept in combed swirls under a lotus motif headband with central jewel and tied into a tight chignon on the top of the head covering the ushnisha--the Buddhist mark of knowledge. An unadorned, fitting veil drapes over the back of the head. The head, erect and frontal, shows the calm serenity of one who, having overcome the suffering of this world, has found peace in the lotus of the good law.
The feeling of serenity that emanates from this religious figure is sure to touch those who share her presence. Female Kuan-yin are often worshipped by women who give offerings to the goddess in exchange for her protection and guidance in domestic affairs.