Traditional Craftsmanship > Thangka Paintings

Thangka Paintings

Apatani Paddy-Fish Cultivation

Thangka is a vibrant painting on cloth, and can be rolled up. It invariably has vertical images, usually painted on cotton or linen, and rarely, silk. Thangkas first appeared in Tibet in the seventh and eighth centuries. Given the close ties Spiti, Lahaul and Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh have had with Tibet, these images soon appeared in Himachal's monasteries too. Tabo in Spiti dates back to 996 AD. With the arrival of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and several of his followers from Tibet, and the establishment of new monasteries in Himachal in the1960s, fresh centres of art like McLeodganj, Tashijong, Bir, Manali and Shimla also came into being.

Traditionally, the common images that have come down to the present day are episodes from the 'Jataka Tales' or depictions of the life of Buddha. Others have the Dhyanibuddha, Amitabha, Bodhisattvas, and female deities like Tara who appears – with variations – in five major forms in different colours and is regarded as the protector of her followers. The sixteen arhats, the saints who have so advanced on the path to nirvana that they were on longer subject to rebirth, but stayed back on earth to preserve and preach the law of the Buddha are also represented. The Lokapalas – the deities of the four directions who live on mount Sumeru and guard the entrance to Sukahavati (paradise) – as well as historical figures like Padmasambhava, Rinchensang-po, the Dalai Lamas, Panchen Lamas and other renowned lamas are also portrayed.

Apatani Paddy-Fish Cultivation

Carried as talismans, or as banners in religious processions, or unfurled on the external or internal walls of temples and monasteries, or displayed at domestic altars, a thangka is created according to strict rules of iconography and ritual. The traditional artists were invariably monks, though common men also paint these now.

Apatani Paddy-Fish Cultivation

To paint a thangka an auspicious date is divined, incense is lit and throughout the period of painting, sutras – literally, doctrines – are recited. The sacred text, the Kunjur, declares that the artist must be well versed in the scriptures and be of good demeanour and the studio must be clean. The traditional pigments were vegetable colours and mineral dust bound by gum. Normally a true thangka is the work of a master assisted by his disciples. Work proceeds at snail's pace with great attention paid to even the minute details given in the manuals of iconography. There is no room for mistake or for artistic latitude. Everything is rigidly prescribed by a ritual code born of profound meditation. After being painted, a thangka is lined and bordered by silk or brocade. A dust-cover of silk is also added. They hold both the serene and the stormy, and the impact is unfailingly powerful.

In recent years as result of a large tourist demand, the basic design is often carved on a wood block which is inked over and transferred on to cloth or paper and then painted.


Contributed by CEE Himalya

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Muslin Fabric

This gossamer light muslin fabric has found mention in the writings of many visitors to India, even as far back as the 3rd century B.C. A great deal of muslin was produced in and exported from Bengal. Dacca was the main region where cotton was cultivated due to the high humidity of the region, which prevented the delicate thread from breaking on contact with the air. The cotton spun was very white since the Brahmaputra and the Ganges Rivers have bleaching properties. The chikan workers in Bengal used this fine muslin for embroidery.

Stitches in Chikankari

Double-Star Earring, Peacock Feather's Eye, Sidhual, Makra, Mandarzi, Bulbulchashm, Tajmahal, Phooljali, Phanda, Dhoom, Gol, murri, Janjeera, Keel, Kangan, Bakhia, Dhania Patti, lambi Murri, Kapkapi, Karan Phool, Bijli, Ghaspatti, Rozan, Meharki, Kaj, Chameli, Chane ki Patti, Balda, Jora, Pachni, Tapchim Kauri, Hathkati and Daraj of various types.