Thangka Paintings

Thangka is a Nepalese art form exported to Tibet after Princess Bhrikuti of Nepal, daughter of King Lichchavi, married Songtsän Gampo, the ruler of Tibet (7th century CE). A thangka is a devotional image representing the most sacred aspects of the Tibetan Buddhist religion. It is traditionally used as an aid and focus for meditation and devotional practices. Thangkas are also commissioned and hung to increase good fortune and ward off negative energies. This sacred art is most popular and beloved to the Tibetan people, as well as to Buddhists worldwide, as they are representations of the enlightened potenital inherent in all sentient beings. Thangkas are also appreciated by the art community for their high level of refined skill and effort, unique techniques, exquisite materials and the finely detailed depiction’s of the deities portrayed.

A thangka is a painting on silk with embroidery, usually depicting a Buddhist deity, scene, or mandala (the `sacred circle`, symbolizing the spiritual embodiment of the Buddha and the stages of spiritual realization) of some sort. These thangka paintings serve as important teaching tools depicting the life of the Buddha, various influential lamas and other deities and bodhisattvas.

Thangkas are used by Tibetan Buddhist practitioners to help them develop a close relationship with a meditational deity. They assist the meditator in clearly visualizing particular images. Commissioning a thangka painting is regarded as a way of generating spiritual merit. Thangkas are also used to portray members of a teaching lineage or, in a narrative form, to depict a spiritual master's life, often involving scenes of intricate detail.

Based on technique and material, thangkas can be broadly grouped into two broad categories: those that are painted and those made of silk, either by appliqué or embroidery.

Appliqué Thangka
These are works of art created using appliqué technique*. In this technique, first, a stencil of the desired image is prepared by drawing a full-size image on paper and perforating the lines with a needle. This stencil is then placed over the cloth that will form the background and is dabbed with a cloth laden with powdered white chalk to render the drawing visible. The individual figures assembled from silk brocade are stitched onto this background and outlined with silk-wrapped strands of Mongolian horse tail. The completed image is mounted on a plain white cotton backing before finally being framed in a brocade border.

Silk thangka and appliqué work were revived at Norbulingka Institute under the guidance of the Master Thangka Painter, Temba Chöphel, who had briefly trained under Gyeten Namgyal, the 13th Dalai Lama's Master Tailor. Later, Temba Chöphel trained as a thangka painter, but he never forgot the sewing skills he had acquired earlier.

Appliqued thangkas are often thought of as superior to the painted thangkas due to their choice of high quality materials, durability, suppleness and their ability to last many generations. There is no brittle paint to crack. There are no glues to come unstuck. All pieces are masterfully hand stitched using special embroidery techniques. This type of thangka has the potential to last many generations.

Dharamsala is home to Thangde Gatsal Thangka Painting Studio where traditional thangka paintings are taught and to Norbulingka Institute which provides training in both thangka paintings as well as Appliqued thangkas.
Note: In the context of sewing, an appliqué refers to a needlework technique in which pieces of fabric, embroidery, or other materials are sewn onto another piece of fabric to create designs, patterns or pictures.

Sand Mandalas Painting
Mandalas are the `sacred circle`, symbolizing the spiritual embodiment of the Buddha and the stages of spiritual realization. This art form involves painting with colored sand wherein millions of grains of sand are painstakingly laid into place on a flat platform over a period of days or weeks.

Sand Mandala is a Tibetan Buddhist tradition involving the creation and destruction of mandalas made from colored sand. A sand mandala is ritualistically destroyed once it has been completed and its accompanying ceremonies and viewing are finished to symbolize the Buddhist doctrinal belief in the transitory nature of material life.