A thangka painting is not a flat creation like the normal paintings we are familiar with. It consists of a picture panel which can be painted or embroidered, over which an ornate fabric 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. However, their delicate nature requires they be kept in dry places as moisture deteriorates the quality of the silk.
Traditionally, thangkas were popular among travelling monks because these scroll-like paintings are easily rolled up and transportable from monastery to monastery. Thangkas served as a form of ‘mobile Buddha image’ for worship, as well as an important teaching tool. For example, a thangka could be an illustrative depiction of the Buddha’s life, the life story of Lama Tsongkhapa, historical events concerning High Lamas, or legends associated with other Deities. In this way, thangkas are used as a meditation tool to help bring one closer to the path of Enlightenment.
Thangkas are painted on cotton canvas or silk with water soluble pigments, both mineral and organic, tempered with a herb and glue solution. 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 scientific, but often requires a deep understanding of the symbolism involved to capture the spirit of it. Because the art is explicitly religious, all symbols and allusions must be in accordance with strict guidelines laid out in the Buddhist scriptures. The artist must be properly trained and have sufficient religious understanding, knowledge, and background to create an accurate and appropriate thangka.
It is indeed a privilege and blessing that Kechara Saraswati Arts has its very own thangka studio within its premises. From time to time, we will hold classes and workshops on this profound art form, conducted by highly qualified thangka artists and masters. It is something not to be missed.