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Avalokiteshvara is an enlightened being who is a manifestation of all Buddhas’ compassion. He is known as the Buddha of Compassion. Avalokiteshvara is the power of the Buddha Amitabha manifested as a bodhisattva and appears as his helper. Avalokiteshvara is the earthly manifestations of the self-born eternal Buddha Amitabha, whose figure is represented in his headdress, and he guards the world in the interval between the departure of the historical Buddha, Gautama, and the appearance of the future Buddha, Maitreya.
Avalokiteshvara protects against shipwreck, fire, assassins, robbers, and wild beasts. According to legend, his head once split with grief at realising the number of wicked beings in the world yet to be saved. Amitabha caused each of the pieces to become a whole head and placed them on his son in three tiers of three, then the 10th, and topped them all with his own image. Sometimes the 11-headed Avalokiteshvara is represented with thousands of arms, which rise like the outspread tail of a peacock around him. In painting he is usually shown white in colour (in Nepal, red). His female consort is the goddess Tara. His traditional residence is the mountain Potala, and his images are frequently placed on hilltops.