Tibetan Thangka Painting- Buddhist Scroll Painting
Thangka painting is first and foremost a kind of religious painting which is also known as Pauba painting in Newari. Thangkas are the Tibetan version of ancient Buddhist scroll paintings practices since Buddha’s era in Nepal. The word “Thangka” itself means “that which can be rolled up” which could be easily carried by the monks and used as a teaching tool. Thangka paintings are unique Himalayan art that attained classical levels in the Tibetan tradition between the 7th and 12th centuries.
A Thangka is more than a piece of work art; it is a two-dimensional representation of spiritual world. It is an object of devotion, an aid to spiritual practice and also a source of blessings to those who meditate upon it. Thangka paintings carry incredible power and blessings that can bring positive energy in the life and environment. The bright colors and forms awaken the mind and boost awareness. It is also believed that even looking at a Thangka is itself a good deed. The reason for people acquiring Thangka is also because it brings good health, prosperity, long life, and good luck. The Thangka paintings are found in shrine rooms and temples as a focus for devotional practice.
Thangka paintings are beyond oil painting or acrylic painting usually painted on linen or coarse wool cloth and sometimes even on silk for precious ones and are mounted in silk brocade. The base of the painting is prepared using a paste of Yak skin glue and fine lime. After the paste dries, carbon and paints using natural mineral and plant colors, such as yellow, mineral green, azurite and cinnabar, are applied. All the colors are mixed with animal glue and ox bile to keep them bright. Strict iconographic rules are followed while making of Thangka, from canvas preparation, drawing of the subject, while mixing and applying colors, decorating with gold, and mounting the completed work in brocade. Every step involves skill and care displaying meticulous detail and exquisite artisan-ship Mostly, Thangkas lasts for very long time even ages; however they have to be kept in dry place where moisture won’t affect its quality.
The subjects of most Thangka painting are religious, however sometime folklore themes intrude. Mostly philosophical and religious elements such as images of Bodhisattvas, images of Buddha, wheel of life, map of universe, life cycle of Buddha, etc. are the common themes of Tibetan Thangka. Thangkas possess an awesome beauty that is sometimes calming, at other time almost terrifying.
How a Thangka is valued is always affected by its art style, genre and the complexity of the painting, material texture and quality. Nonetheless, the value of Thangka also depends upon the skill of the artist. It takes about 7 to 8 months to complete a Thangka of one square meter depending on a daily of 6 to 8 working hours. Moreover, a high quality Thangka of significant size will correspondingly be valued higher.