The Thousand-armed Mañjuśrī is an enigmatic form of the bodhisattva that appeared primarily in the Mogao cave shrines in northwestern China. There, the deity was nearly always paired with the Thousand-armed Avalokiteśvara on opposite walls or on opposite sides of a doorway. Curiously, this pairing is absent from any of the Buddhist sutras associated with the two. This article argues that texts were a starting point rather than an end point for the establishment of the Thousand-armed Mañjuśrī's iconographic characteristics, and that the pairing of the two deities is crucial for understanding the gaps between the deity's textual description and its visual representation.

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