6/10/2008

Goddess of the week - Guan Yin

Name: Guan Yin
Location: China, Japan, Vietnam, Korea etcetera.
Sphere of influence: Compassion - she is also linked to women and the birth of children
Famous portraits: She is a popular figure in religious art in the areas where she is venerated.

She is the Bodhisattva of compassion in the Eastern Buddhist tradition. The name Guan Yin (觀音) is Mandarin, in Japanese she is known as Kan'non (観音), in Korean as Gwan-eum (관음), in Vietnamese as Quan Âm and in Thai as Kuan Eim ( กวนอิม). Her names means '(She who) observes the sounds [cries] of the world'.

The goddess is originally evolved from an Indian Bodhisattva, Avalokiteshvara, who was male. But once the tradition reached China, sometime prior to the 13th century A.D., she turned distinctively female.

She as seen as someone who heard prayers and is often invoked at post-burial rites to make sure that the soul of those who passed away will not come to any harm. She is also important in the area of child-bearing. It is believed that she can grant the family to have a son, but if they pray for a daughter she will be very beautiful.

Her main temple is
on the island of Putuoshan, in the Chusan Archipelago, where she is believed to have stayed for nine years, reigning as the queen of the Southern Seas. The island was an important Buddhist shrine, but during the 20th century the number of monks and temples on the island has declined.

The goddess is often portrayed in a white flowing robe and a necklace of a type worn by Indian and Chinese royalty. In the right hand she holds a jug with pure water and in the left a willow branch (just as she is in the picture here). She often wears a crown that depicts the Amitabha Buddha, her spiritual leader before she herself became a Bodhisattva. There are some regional differences in how she is depicted, though. Pictures from the Fukien region often portrays as her a young maiden in Tang dynasty clothing with a basket of fish.


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