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-- It is a unique art of painting in Tibetan culture

Thangka, also called Thanka, Thang-ga and Tangkar, refers to a scroll painting in Tibet. It is a unique art of painting in Tibetan culture. A Thangka is a complicated, three-dimensional article that consists of a painted or embroidered picture panel, a textile mounting and maybe a silk cover, leather corners, wooden dowels at the ends and metal or wooden decorative knobs on the bottom dowel. Themes of Thangka involve the history, the politics, the culture, the social life, etc. in Tibet, which makes Thangka the encyclopedia of the Tibetan nationality.



Thangka is a Nepalese art form that came down from Nepal to Tibet. In terms of its contents, Thangka mostly relates to Tibetan religion, history, culture and art, science and technology, coagulating the faith and wisdom of Tibetan people, recording the civilization and development of Tibet, and resting Tibetan people’s incomparable affection for the Buddha and the measureless love for their snow home.

Tibetan Thangka is a new art of painting that arising in Sontzen Gampo period, and that is striped satin-mounted scroll painting. It has always been treasured by Tibetan people for its bright national characteristics, intense religion traits and distinct artistic style.

Originally, Buddha Thangka was used as a record of and a guide for contemplative experience. It was popular among traveling monks, because it was easily rolled and transported from monastery to monastery.

Monk With Thangka

Monk With Thangka

Tibetan Thangka has existed for a long history. The contents are plentiful and the quantity is considerable, but owing to various social unrests, few of ancient Thangkas of Tang and Song dynasties have been preserved, so they are very precious.

Usually, Buddha Thangka is a scroll, with a big blank at the bottom. Its size is generally 75cm×50cm. Besides vertically-hung scroll ,you also can see horizontal scroll, with a general big size of 1.1m×3.5m.

According to the material, Thangka can be divided into two categories. One is called “Guo Tang” in Chinese, and it is made of silk, either by appliqué or embroidery; another is called “Zhi Tang” and it is painted. Guo Tang can be further divided into different categories according to different silk materials, and Zhi Tang can do so according to different background colors. Details will not list here.

Tibetan Thangka is particular about its color. Strong colors on background are usually red, black, blue, golden or silver. Most red Thangkas are painted with stories of Buddha in a gallant style; black ones are often with images of Guardian Deity or guardian warriors subduing and eliminating demons and evil spirits, outlined with golden thread, which makes the image very majestic and solemn; blue ones usually show auspicious and joyous pictures of Mandkesvara (Happy Buddha) and Chakrasamvara; and golden and silver Thangkas look very wealthy and elegant, with simple but splendid colors.

Thangka of Shakyamuni bodhisattva

Thangka of Shakyamuni bodhisattva

The manufacture of Thangka is a complicated process. Firstly, artists should do some preparations: selecting canvas, assembling frame, sewing canvas, swabbing, grinding, making brush and mixing pigments. The primary processes of making a Tibetan Thangka are drawing position line, drawing draft, line drawing, coloring, dyeing, portraying Buddha’s face, drawing golden lines and drawing eyes. And then, after mounting, a Thangka is finished. Easier said than done. To make a Thangka needs carefully noticing some details.

Thangka can be preserved for a long time and retain much of its luster, but you have to keep it in a dry place, and because of its delicate nature, its quality can be easily affected by moisture.

With the culture developing in Tibet, Tibetan is not so mysterious as before. It has entered people’s daily life from temples. Nowadays, furniture or buildings decorated with the drawing skills and artistic form can be found everywhere, and especially for today’s flourishing tourist economy, Thangka has become art treasure for many tourists and collectors purchasing and collecting.

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