Avalokitesvara is one of the most celebrated figures in Buddhism, and is depicted in different manifestations including the present multi-armed form. Avalokitesvara, also known as Guanyin, is the Bodhisattva of compassion and the protector of the world. The 'One-thousand-armed' Avalokitesvara belongs to esoteric Buddhism with the arms symbolising his many powers for saving the world and helping followers to gain enlightenment. The central pair of arms is in anjalimudra, the prayer pose, while the outer arms are in various mudras or holding an object that represents power. The present figure holds the vajra, the diamond sceptre, which is the Buddhist symbol of the imperturbable male principle that represents the path or method. The ghanta, or bell, symbolises transience, the female principle that represents wisdom or a purpose. Together with the vajra it is the symbol that leads to enlightenment. The pustaka, the book, is the symbol of transcendental wisdom and in particular, of the texts on the Perfection of Insight, the Prajnaparamita. The bhumba, the sacrifical jug, is intended for pouring water or nectar in the hands of the one to whom the sacrifice is made.
This form of mystical interpretation of Avalokitesvara with multiple arms and heads is found on mural paintings at Dunhuang as early as the late 8th/9th century. The sculptural form appeared as early as the 10th century and can be seen on a carving of a standing multi-armed Bodhisattva dated to the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) in the Dinglongxing Temple, Hebei province, illustrated in Guanyin Baoxiang, 'Precious Images of Guanyin', Shanghai, 1998, p. 99. One of the earliest published figures of gilt-bronze Tantric Avalokitesvara appears to be a seated example in the Nitta collection, illustrated in The Crucible of Compassion and Wisdom, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1985, p. 189, pl. 93, dated to the Five Dynasties (907-960). The present figure is impressive for its imposing size. Figures of this very large size were most likely placed in a prominent position in some communal place of worship. No other standing figure of this large size appears to be recorded.