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Thangka Painting: a Buddhist Art

By Devik Balami at
thangka painting

Thangka painting is a Tibetan Buddhist art made on a cotton. This painting usually depict a Buddhist deity, mandala or any scene. Silk is added at the side of the painting in order to look nice and to preserve as well. Typically, Thangka paintings are unframed and when they are not on display, they are stored by rolling up. Since the painting can be scrolled, it is also called scroll painting. Due to the material, the Thangka painting should be stored in dry places. When stored in cool and damp places, the Thangka painting may be worse because of Silk. Most of the people treat the painting with several different techniques in order to preserve well. The sizes of the Thangka painting vary. There are relatively small sized Thangkas as well as extremely large sized. The small sized one is not meant for exhibition, they are for the personal use while larger ones are meant for display for brief periods of time especially during the festivals. Normally, these large paintings are stored in monasteries or Museums.

For e.g. the world largest Thangka Painting, made by artists of 16 different countries, was exhibited to mark 60th anniversary Nepal Japan diplomatic relation. This Buddhist art was of 70 m length and 50 m breadth which portrays life cycle of Lord Gautam Buddha. Currently it is stored in Japan. Likewise, there is a Buddhist festival called Samyak in Nepal where different Antique Buddha Statues of Dipankar Buddha, Thangka Painting are displayed at the Bhuikhel, foothills of Swoyambhu Stupa.

paint use for making thangka

Thangka painting composition

Normally, Thangka painting has central deity in the center of the painting which is usually placed inside the shrine. The central deity is surrounded by other deity made in a smaller size in comparison to the central deity and they are usually drawn at the sides. The background is usually filled with natural elements. Other than to represent the deity, it is also used to show the life history of Gautama Buddha and his teachings.

Importance of Thangka Painting

Particularly, Thangka painting has different values in itself. First, the Thangka painting serves as teaching tools since most of the Thangka painting depict life history of Siddhartha Gautama Buddha, myths associated with other deities and bodhisattvas. The teaching of Siddhartha Gautama Buddha are also depicted in the Thangka painting. One of them is "Wheel of Life" which is not only drawn in the paintings but also depicted in the walls of the monasteries so that the persons will have the idea about how life really works. Therefore the Lamas and other Buddhist teachers uses Thangka painting in order to impart the knowledge.

Second, the Thangka Paintings also serves as a meditational tool. The Buddhist Vajrayana practitioner visualizes him/ herself as being the deity represented in the Thangka painting, thereby internalizes the Buddha qualities.

Third, the Thangka Paintings also serves as the icon during a ritual or ceremony. They are often used as a mediums through which the person offers prayer.

Fourth, it is believed that Thangka Paintings brings positive energy, and fosters cool and calm environment when it is hung in the walls. So most of the people place this Buddhist art in their bedrooms, common rooms, and Offices.

Origin of Thangka painting

It is believed that the origins of Buddhists Art in Tibet were initiated only after Bhrikuti married to Tibetan King Songtsan Gampo. It is recorded that many Antique Buddha Statues, Buddhists Arts, and Newari craftsmen were given to Bhrikuti as a part of the dowry. Another account of the transfer of artistic knowledge was when Arniko was invited to Tibet to build the golden stupa, then by Kublai Khan to decorate his courtyard. Arniko also took other artists to work with him. Therefore, the Buddhist arts, images found in Tibet and China have a lot of similarities with that of arts and images found in Nepal. Therefore it is said that Tibetan Thangka Painting has its origin in Paubha Painting made by Newari Caste of Nepal.

Even though it is named as Tibetan Thangka Painting, most of the painting have been drawn in Nepal. People from different castes like, Sherpa, Gurung, Tamang, Magar of Nepal have been involved in making Thangkas and supporting their families. These works are exported to west and Buddhist Country.

Origin of Thangka painting

It is believed that the origins of Buddhists Art in Tibet were initiated only after Bhrikuti married to Tibetan King Songtsan Gampo. It is recorded that many Antique Buddha Statues, Buddhists Arts, and Newari craftsmen were given to Bhrikuti as a part of the dowry. Another account of the transfer of artistic knowledge was when Arniko was invited to Tibet to build the golden stupa, then by Kublai Khan to decorate his courtyard. Arniko also took other artists to work with him. Therefore, the Buddhist arts, images found in Tibet and China have a lot of similarities with that of arts and images found in Nepal. Therefore it is said that Tibetan Thangka Painting has its origin in Paubha Painting made by Newari Caste of Nepal.

Even though it is named as Tibetan Thangka Painting, most of the painting have been drawn in Nepal. People from different castes like, Sherpa, Gurung, Tamang, Magar of Nepal have been involved in making Thangkas and supporting their families. These works are exported to west and Buddhist Country.