Two tall, bejeweled bodhisattvas displayed in Echoes of the Past represent deities that accompany the Buddha Amitabha, who presides over the Western Paradise, also known as his Sukhavati. In their original setting—the main altar of the central pillar in Cave 2—these images and pairs of less finely attired bodhisattvas and Pratyekabuddhas together illustrated the divinities residing in Amitabha’s heavenly realm.
Devotional worship of the Buddha Amitabha grew quickly during the sixth century, coinciding with the construction of the Xiangtangshan caves. According to scriptures, believers devoted to this Buddha need only call upon his aid to be reborn in his paradise.
The beauty of Amitabha’s Pure Land is depicted in a massive relief that was carved above Cave 2’s entrance. The relief was purchased by the Freer Gallery in 1921; it is now built into the wall of the museum. Visit Gallery 17 in the Freer to see this and the companion relief that once occupied the cave’s central pillar.