Tibet enjoys the high reputation for its Tibet Buddhism and own characteristics culture. Their life style, architecture and all the peole are deeply influenced by the Tibet Buddhism. Thangga, a hanging scroll which consists of a painted or embroidered picture panel, usually depicting a buddha, mandala or great practitioner, which has been sewn into a textile mounting. It was an important and highly developed means of expression through which the entire Buddhist philosophy could be explained.
What is Thangga?
Painted by hand on cloths of silk or cotton, Thangka paintings typically depict important Buddhist motifs, the Wheel of Life, images of the Buddha, other Buddhist deities and mandalas being the most common. The Tibetan word THANG KA means “recorded message” in English.
Traditionally, the Thangka are designed to tell the life of Buddha, as well as other influential lamas and deities. Thangka are also used as devotional pieces during religious rituals or ceremonies, and can be used as a medium for prayer.
Characteristics of Thangga
- Usually very intricate and detailed, with images inter-woven in a stylised geometric series of overlapping grids
- All symbols and allusions must be in accordance with strict guidelines laid out in Buddhist scripture.
- The artist must be properly trained and have sufficient religious understanding, knowledge, and background to create an accurate and appropriate thangka.
- Fragile objects and fading when exposed to light.
- Peaceful and wrathful deities, and mandalas are among the subjects depicted in thangkas.
The Origins of the Thangka
The thangka itself is traditionally held to be a Nepalese invention introduced to Tibet by Princess Bhrikuti of Nepal who married Sron Tsan Gampo, the ruler of Tibet, around 620-632 CE. The paintings were developed over the centuries from the early wall murals that can be seen in a few remaining sites like the Ajanta Caves in India and the Mogao Caves in Gansu Province, China. The earliest dated prints from the “Library Cave” were dated to be from around 780-848 AD, when the region was under Tibetan rule.
On a deeper level, thangka paintings can be seen as a visual expression of the highest state of consciousness, which is the ultimate goal of the Buddhist spiritual path. What’s more, thangkas were commissioned for many purposes—as aids to meditation, as requests for long life, as tokens of thanksgiving for having recovered from illness, or in order to accumulate merit. So thangka is sometimes called a “roadmap to enlightenment”, as it shows you the way to this fully awakened state of enlightenment. Devotees often have Thangka paintings hung in their homes, bedrooms and offices.
The mantle is typically constructed from silk brocade, and the painting is generally executed in oils on treated cotton duck, including pictures created from pigments ground from semi-precious stones, appliqué and silk or cotton embroidery.
Thangkas fulfil several important functions for the practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism. The images are used to teach students and monks about the aspects of Buddha, describe important historical events and illustrate myths associated with important deities. Devotional images act as a focus during rituals and ceremonies and are often used as mediums through which prayers are offered and particular requests made. Most importantly, thangka art is a valuable meditation tool and offers a manifestation of the divine that is both visually and mentally stimulating.
Types of Thangka in Tibet
- Painted in color, which are the most common type
- Appliqué, an ornamental needlework made from pieces of fabric
- Black Background, which uses a gold line on a black background
- Block-prints, the paper or cloth outlined renderings, made by woodblock printing
- Embroidery with multicolored threads
- Gold Background, a very auspicious treatment which was used for peaceful deities and the fully enlightened Buddhas
- Red Background, this was also a gold line, but on vermilion pigmented cloth
Tibetan Festivals and Thangka Display
- Tashilunpo Monastery
The monks unveil the big Thangka with an image of Buddha and the people will all gather in front of it to pray
- The Ganden Thangka Festival
It was held at the old Ganden Monastery in August. Thousands of people walk a kora around the monastery before going inside to pray. Then they will all gather outside to view and pray before the woven image of Buddha, dressing in their finest clothes. They move from temple to temple with offerings and hoping to receive blessings from the monks.
- The Shoton Festival,
It is one of the most popular of Tibet’s traditional festivals, the Thangka is unveiled at the Drepung Monastery in Lhasa. As the sound of the horn echoes through the valley, a host of lamas carry the huge portrait of Qamba Buddha from the Coqen Hall and towards the western end of the monastery to a specially erected platform. As smoke rises from all sides and monks chant scriptures, the lamas slowly unroll the Thangka to cheers from the crowds, who rush to the painting to offer their white hada, or prayer silks. This Thangka is only open for around two hours, before the monks move it carefully back inside for another year.
Thangka are a beautiful and very spiritual part of Buddhism, and a huge part of the rich Tibetan culture. It is easy to see why these paintings are so popular, and how the art has survived in the region for centuries. It is worthy of us attending one of festivals and watching Thangga display.