Thangka Art- History of Thangka Painting
Thangka, also known as “Pauba” is a Nepalese art form exported to Tibet after Princess Bhrikuti of Nepal, daughter of King Lichchavi, married Songtsan Gampo. At that time, a number of Buddhist manuscripts, including Prajnaparamita, were copied in Kathmandu Valley for various monasteries. The influence of Nepalese art extended till Tibet and even beyond in China in regular order during the 13th century. Nepalese artisans were dispatched to the courts of Chinese emperors at their request to perform their workmanship and impart expert knowledge. The exemplary contribution made by the artisans of Nepal, specially by the Nepalese innovator and architect Balbahu, known by his popular name “Arniko” bear testimony to this fact even today. The ruler of Tibet, Songtsan Gampo imported the images of Aryawalokirteshwar and other Nepalese deities to Tibet. Since then, it has been practiced in Tibet for much more than one thousand years.
The history of Thangka actually dates back to 11th century A.D. once illustration of deities and natural scenes were made. Thangkas are of two types, the Palas which includes the illustration of deities and the Mandala, which shows the mystic diagrams of complex test prescribed patterns of circles and squares with their own specific significance. Later in 11th century, the art of Thangka began to take influences of the west when the famous monk and scholar Rinchen Sangpo brought artist from Kashmir. From the fourteenth century, Thangka returned influences of Chinese art, but until then a distinct style had already been solidified in Tibet. Over time various schools of different styles that have emerged so far remains. All are painted in cotton fabric paints with a base of water stained with organic and mineral pigments with gum set.
From 15th century onwards, brighter colors gradually began to appear in Nepalese Thangka. Because of the growing importance of the Tantric cult, various aspects of Shiva and Shakti were painted in conventional poses. Mahakala, Manjushri, Lokeshwara and other deities were equally popular and so were also frequently represented in Thanka / Thangka paintings of later dates. As Tantrism embodies the ideas of esoteric power, magic forces, and a great variety of symbols, strong emphasis is laid on the female element and sexuality in the paintings of that period.
After realizing the great demand for religious icons in Tibet, Nepalese artists, along with monks and traders, took not only the metal sculptures but also a number of Buddhist manuscripts. To better fulfill the ever – increasing demand Nepalese artists initiated a new type of religious painting on cloth that could be easily rolled up and carried along with them. This type of painting became very popular both in Nepal and Tibet. Early Nepalese Thangkas are simple in design and composition. The main deity, a large figure, occupies the central position while surrounded by smaller figures of lesser divinities.
Its origin can be traced all the way back to the time of Lord Buddha. The main themes of Thangka paintings are religious. During the reign of Dharma King Trisong, Duetsen the Tibetan masters refined there already well developed arts through research and studies of different country’s tradition. Thangka painting’s lining and measurement, costumes, implementations and ornaments are all based on Indian style. The drawing of figures is based on Nepalese style and the background sceneries are based on Chinese style. Thus, the Thangka paintings became a unique and distinctive art.
Thangka have developed in the northern Himalayan regions among the Lamas. Besides Lamas, Gurung and Tamang communities are also producing Thangkas, which provide substantial employment opportunities for many people in the hills. Newari Thangkas (Also known as Paubha) has been the hidden art work in Kathmandu valley from 13th century. This art is well preserved and is exclusively created by some particular painter family who has inherited their art from their forefathers. Some of the artistic religious and historical paintings are also done by the Newars of Kathmandu Valley.