What is Thangka Painting

Traditionally Thangka paintings( or in Tibetan ‘Ten-pa/ Scroll Paintings’) were created in a highly stylized fashion, because in ancient Tibetan lamas (teachers) used to go from village to village by horse back to teach. This is where the scroll painting originated from, as it was much easier to transport. As many people couldn’t read in the villages the teachers used these paintings as a visual aid to help teach people. In Tibetan Buddhism Thangkas are more commonly used in various forms of meditation, where the practitioner focuses on the painting to generate a clear visualization.

The sacred art of Thangka dates back to the 7th century or even earlier, with depictions of Buddha Shakyamuni from India and Nepal. Within Tibet itself, as it was broken up into different autonomous regions such as Amdo, Lasha, Kahm etc, all these places each had their own style of Thangka art, much the same as they had their own dialects. Each region was influenced by artistic practices from their bordering countries such as India, Persia and China. So already we can see that the tradition of Thangka painting is influenced by other artistic styles that date back quite some time.

Traditionally a Thangka painter would use an array of natural materials such as hide, glue, chalk powder and cotton to make a canvas, bamboo to stretch the canvas, paint brushes made from animal hairs, and a various assortment of paints and dyes made from natural pigments. These mineral pigments would come from precious stones such as lapis, malachite or asurite.  Today in the west it is a costly factor to use such fine things as natural pigments, but with quality acrylic paints and mediums, the same effects can be achieved.