Tibetan Thangka paintings

Do you know of any Tibetan handicrafts? In Tibet and many places of Tibetan settlement, such as in India, you would have an opportunity to look closely at many delicate handmade products, gorgeous Tibetan carpets, rugs, incense sticks, knives, and Thangka paintings. They are very diverse, but most importantly, they are a display of Tibetan people's wisdom. Thangka painting is an ancient type of Tibetan art, which has been preserved in the Himalayan region for two thousand years. It originated in Nepal and was brought to Tibet by the Nepalese princess, Bhrikuti. She was the wife of Songtsen Gampo, the founder of the Tibetan Empire.


Thangka is a Tibetan word, which means 'recorded message.' Tibetan Thangka is a scroll-like painting that can be examined like a map through visual symbols and colours. Each detail is intricate and has a deep symbolic meaning, referring to various parts of the Buddhist philosophy. Hence, Buddhist Thangka combines fine art with spirituality to create a captivating art piece filled with philosophical meaning. A Thangka could depict a deity, a mandala, or a spiritually significant event from a Buddhist master's life.


The making of a Thangka is a long and painstaking process. They are traditionally painted on either cotton or silk, with loosely-woven cotton being the most common. They are generally around 40cm-58cm wide. The paints are made from pigments in a water-soluble form of animal glue. It can take months of painstaking work to complete a detailed Thangka. Besides skill in painting, the artist must have an understanding of Buddhist scriptures and iconography.


Today, the early murals can be seen in a few remaining sites like the Ajanta Caves in India, some of the oldest monasteries in Ladakh (India), and the Mogao Caves, Gansu Province, China. Depending on the content, one could distinguish Buddha Thangka, Biography Thangka, Mythology Thangka, and Catechism Thangka. Have you seen a Thangka painting before? Share in comments.

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