Art & Culture

What Is Thangka Artwork?

Created from Tibetan Buddhist art, thangkas are pictorial scrolls.

Traditional Thangkas were hand painted with minerals and gold dust, and sometimes embroidered or appliqued. Found in both monasteries and homes, they are not just decorative but are highly revered objects with powerful significance. Originally developed in 7th Century Nepal, several schools of painting developed to teach the skills required to create Thangkas.

Historically, thangkas were used as teaching aids. A lama or “traveling teacher” would give presentations on Buddha’s life and teachings.

They would carry painted scrolls to present spiritually significant events, the aspects of different deities, or Buddhist concepts.

Made according to the scriptures, thangkas are considered a visual representation of a spiritual reality.

Thangka Composition
& Layout

A thangka is most often a visual representation of a particular deity. The focus is on the central figure in the composition, a deity. The deity is displayed strictly according to guidelines from religious texts.

Surrounding the deity could be secondary figures and areas that also have symbolic relevance.

Original thangka paintings were mounted in brocade consisting of red (the color of the lamas), yellow (for the Buddha), and blue (symbolizing eternity).

Thangka paintings are also worshipped during religious festivals. Commissioning a thangka to be created is considered a way of generating spiritual merit.

In times of hardship, a person can consult a lama who might recommend the creation of a thangka to a particular deity. In Sikkim – a significant center of Buddhism located in north eastern India – birth and death, are special occasions when a thangka might be commissioned.

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