Thangka Painting: Discover magnificent, colorful scroll paintings that are highly symbolic, steeped in tradition and significance which are used for worship, teaching, and meditation.
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Discover Thangka Paintings: One of Asia’s Most Famous Art forms

Jan 8th, 2024


Thangka paintings, one of Asia’s most famous art forms are stunning works of art created on cotton or silk canvas that depict a range of subjects from Buddhist deities and scenes to mandalas. The word "thangka" means "recorded message" in Tibetan and is an integral part of the Tibetan Buddhist culture.
These magnificent, colorful scroll paintings are highly symbolic, steeped in tradition and significance. When not on display, they are kept unframed and rolled up, mounted on a textile backing with a silk cover on the front, similar to Chinese scroll paintings.
Thangka Paintings serve as essential teaching and meditation tool for religious scholars, with intricate geometric patterns like most Buddhist art. They are used for worship, teaching, and meditation.

Thangkas are often commissioned for many purposes, including: 
●    Aids to meditation
●    Requests for long life
●    Tokens of thanksgiving for having recovered from illness
●    To accumulate merit
Thangkas are also believed to bridge the gap between the mortal and divine worlds, acting as intermediaries. When consecrated in shrines or family altars, they are believed to embody the deity they depict. Their original purpose was to cure and protect those who gaze upon them.

The History:
Thangka paintings date back to the era of Gautam Buddha, with origins dating back to the 7th century A.D. It is considered a component of the Abhidharma, or "Art of Enlightenment," and the paintings serve as symbolic representations of Buddhist iconography. This means that every painting is imbued with divine and meaningful passages based on the Buddha's teachings. Thangkas can depict a deity, a mandala, or a spiritually significant event from the life of a Buddhist master. Some symbols of thangka paintings include: 
●    The White Parasol
●    The Pair of Golden Fish
●    The Lotus-flower
●    The White Conch Shell
●    The Vase
●    The Victory Banner
●    The Dharma Wheel
●    The Eternal Knot


Classification:
Buddhism is often seen as a polytheistic religion with various idols. A classification system with three categories (peaceful deities, wrathful deities, and yidams) has been developed to aid in understanding the numerous idols. Peaceful deities are the most popular, while wrathful deities are protectors. Yidams relate to specific practices. Additionally, there is a unique Thangka style featuring more intricate details and historical events.



Key Characteristics to Know:
Thangka paintings are a unique form of art, known for their traditional materials and methods, iconography and symbolism, and master craftsmanship. Some of the essential features of an authentic Thangka painting include:
●    Traditional materials and methods: Thangkas are painted using natural mineral and plant pigments, often mixed with animal glue as a binder. The surface is prepared with gesso, and 24k gold leaf is often used for detailing.
●    Iconography and symbolism: Thangka paintings are rich in symbolism, with imagery that draws on Buddhist teachings and practices. Every detail, from the specific postures, mudras, and colors of the deities, to the intricate geometric patterns of the mandalas, holds its own meaning.
●    Master craftsmanship: Thangka painting is a meticulous and time-consuming process that requires skilled artists trained in traditional techniques. Every detail is rendered with exceptional skill and study, ensuring the accuracy and beauty of the final product.


Evolution:
Thangkas have undergone several transformations over time. While natural pigments and gold leaf were initially used for painting Thangkas, modern artists prefer water-based paints like gouache and acrylic. Mineral pigments made from coral, malachite, sapphire, pearl, and gold are still commonly used in Thangka painting. Today, Thangkas are painted with water-soluble pigments on cotton canvas and treated with a herb and glue solution.
The artistic style of Thangkas has also evolved over time. The most refined style, called Pauba, was developed by artists in Nepal, specifically in Kathmandu. Due to Nepal's close ties with Tibet, which has a large Buddhist population, Nepal has become a major hub for Thangka art. Additionally, the Newari Thankas or paubha have been produced in the Kathmandu valley since the 13th century.


Although Thangka painting was initially created as a means of gaining merit, it has now become a lucrative business venture. Unfortunately, the original noble intentions behind the art form have been lost. In the Tibetan community, selling religious artifacts like Thangkas and idols is not well-regarded. As a result, non-Tibetan groups have taken advantage of the art form's popularity among Western art enthusiasts and Buddhists.
Thangkas, which provide significant employment opportunities for many in the hills, were developed in the northern Himalayan region by Lamas.
Thangkas are now available in various styles, ranging from mass-produced tourist souvenirs to stunning paintings that can take several months to complete in regions where Tibetan Buddhism is practiced including Mongolia, Ladakh, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and parts of Himalayas.​​​​​​​


Where to buy Thangka in Sikkim?

The price of Thangka prints start from Rs 499/- and above, while original Thangkas are costlier (ranging from Rs 2000 to 30,000 or more) due to the amount of time and work put in it.


Here are a few places one can find Thangkas in and around Gangtok:

Directorate of Handicrafts & Handloom, Zero Point, Gangtok 

Asta Mangala Arts, below chorten Monastery Rd, M.P.Golai, Deorali Bazar, Gangtok.

S Mart: The Departmental Store, above Westside, Gangtok, opposite Krishi Bhawan

Kandoika, New Market.

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