Tibetan art has always been a subject of great interest for all the people all around the world. In terms of religious message and cultural ramification of Tibet, Thangka, Thanka, or Tangka Paintings are known for its artistry and fine detailing.
The word Thangka is derived from the Tibetan words ‘Than’, meaning ‘flat’ and ‘ka’ meaning painting. A Thangka looks like a banner, and is usually hoisted at the top of monasteries and family alters and is also carried by Lamas and other Buddhist monks and disciples in religious processions.
Thangka is usually a silk or a cotton painting adorned with a touch of embroidery with images of Buddha and other deities as the subject. It transcends other forms of paintings like oil and water color, as these Thangkas are created as a form of visual representation in mixed media. Commonly, a Thangka is 16 inches to 23 inches in width. With vibrant colors and incredibly fine and minute detailing, these are mounted with a textile material over a picture panel and laid with a fine piece of material like silk. The creators of Thangkas are gifted with great skill as painters and artisans, along with a detailed knowledge of Buddhist teachings, Buddhist ceremonies and its cultural significance along with valued and spiritual interpretations of different sacred teachings. Thangkas are created with no artificial colors. Rather they are painted with original dusts of gold, flower, wood and other such pigments in a water soluble material with the aid of a herb and glue solution. These paintings can be also termed as scroll paintings as they can be scrolled back and forth whenever necessary.
Like all other pictorial art and representations in the Buddhist culture, the paintings of Thangka adhere to the precision in terms of geometric shapes. Angles created through grids in a proper system and well defined intersecting lines are imperative for such paintings. The elements of the compositions are selected from a pre designed and pre defined group of images, like bowls, animals and spaces. This methodology of painting a Thangka follows the inherent symbolism of the religion to capture the true spirit of this philosophy.
Thangka Paintings, as put forward by the scholars, are said to be hugely influenced by the ancient Chinese Paintings. With the cultural exchange beginning in the 14th century A.D., these Tibetan art forms carried, to a certain sense, a provincial echo of the mainstream Chinese art.
The North Eastern part of India is known for its mountains, natural beauties and spiritual culture. This part of India is an abode of Buddhist monks and ancient to old monasteries, and therefore religious functions and customs are inoperable part of the daily life. These Thangkas thus become an inevitable part of their religion serving as significant visual teaching tools depicting the life of the Buddha and other Bodhisattvas. They also pictorially represent important historical events in the lives of the popular Lamas and the popular myths, reiterating the stories in the most stimulating way. Thangkas often carry devotional images which serve as a finite pictorial representation in religious ceremonies facilitating the common people to offer their prayer and worship. But above all, these beautiful specimens of art act as a medium through which a devotee can meditate and choose the path of enlightenment.
Although Thangkas are known for their spiritual symbolism and religious alliterations and allusions, they sometimes would depict the Tibetan socio-cultural life, customs and their daily practices. Tibetan calendar, astronomy and Tibetan traditional medicine are also included as subjects of these paintings. Other popular Thangkas are usually the biographies of the great spiritual leaders.
Sometimes of the times it becomes extremely difficult to extrapolate the symbolism of the iconographic representations of the Thangkas. Even the uses of colors in the icons carry deep and spiritual connotations. For instance, a particular shade of green carries a message of effective activity and white connotes incontrovertible compassion, peace and tranquility.
Based on the procedure of their making and materials used, Thangkas can be divided into two categories. They are:
Those which are hand painted, in Tibetan they are called Bris-Than
Those which are hand woven or hand embroidered with silk, in Tibetan they are called Gos-Than
Further, on the basis of color scheme, the Thangkas are also categorized into the following types:
With Vivid colors added to the background
With a Gold background
With a Red background
With a Black background
With outlines on the background printed on cotton touched up with color
On the basis of subject matter, the following are the few of the categories of Thangka:
Thangkas have gained considerable popularity among collectors. Curio shops collect and even create Thangkas of various categories. The price depends on the standard and the experience of the artists, the quality of the Thangka and their age. These Tibetan artworks, which can be dated back to the medieval centuries, have found its application even in the materialistic urban spaces as a gesture and a symbol of profit and good fortune.