A Thangka, also known as tangka, thanka or tanka is a painting on cotton, or silk, usually depicting a Buddhist deity, scene, or mandala (Mandala i.e. a circle is a spiritual and ritual symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism representing the Universe.
The basic form of most mandalas is a square with four gates containing a circle with a center point. Each gate is in the general shape of a T. Mandalas often exhibit radial balance.).
The thankga is not a flat creation like an oil painting or acrylic painting but consists of a picture panel which is painted or embroidered over which a textile is mounted and then over which is laid a cover, usually silk.
Generally, thangkas last a very long time and retain much of their lustre, but because of their delicate nature, they have to be kept in dry places where moisture won’t affect the quality of the silk. It is sometimes called a scroll-painting.
These thangka served as important teaching tools depicting the life of the Buddha, various influential lamas and other deities and bodhisattvas. One subject is The Wheel of Life, which is a visual representation of the Abhidharma teachings (Art of Enlightenment).
Thangka, when created properly, perform several different functions.
Process of creation of Thangka:
The most common is a loosely woven cotton produced in widths from 40 to 58 centimeters (16 – 23 inches).
The paint consists of pigments in a water soluble medium. Both mineral and organic pigments are used, tempered with a herb and glue solution. In Western terminology, this is a distemper (Distemper is a term with a variety of meanings for paints used in decorating and as a historical medium for painting pictures. The binding element may be some form of glue or oil; these are known in decorating respectively as soft distemper and oil bound distemper) technique.
The composition of a thangka, as with the majority of Buddhist art, is highly geometric. Arms, legs, eyes, nostrils, ears, and various ritual implements are all laid out on a systematic grid of angles and intersecting lines. A skilled thangka artist will generally select from a variety of predesigned items to include in the composition, ranging from alms bowls and animals, to the shape, size, and angle of a figure’s eyes, nose, and lips. The process seems very methodical, but often requires deep understanding of the symbolism involved to capture the spirit of it.
Thangka often overflow with symbolism and allusion. Because the art is explicitly religious, 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.
Tibetan art exemplifies the nirmanakaya, the physical body of Buddha, and also the qualities of the Buddha, perhaps in the form of a deity. Art objects, therefore, must follow rules specified in the Buddhist scriptures regarding proportions, shape, color, stance, hand positions, and attributes in order to personify correctly the Buddha or Deities