Origin: Most primitive survivals of Thangka paintings are in fragments from the Mogao Caves at Dunhuang, China. In 12th century, Mogao caves at Dunhuang China, introduced the world to Thangkas paintings. Since then, these religious paintings are popular and have travelled through China to India.
These paintings are also addressed as religious scrolls found in monasteries and local rural homes. Some of the ancient Thangkas are adorned with inscriptions on their back hinting that they were personal meditation notes of a monk.
All monasteries in Sikkim, house these religious scrolls. Considered, extremely auspicious by Sikkimese, these paintings are worshipped at key Buddhist ceremonies.
Present Day: This religious art form is hugely supported by Government of Sikkim. The schools of Sikkim are also teaching the stunning art of making Thangkas paintings. These sacred paintings depict the life events of deities, images of Lord Buddha, Goddess Saraswati, God Chana Dorji and Guru Padmasambhava.
However, mostly Thangkas depict the Wheel of Life. In this wheel, the cock represents lust, snake denotes anger and pig stands for ignorance. The wheel’s black portion denotes evil deeds while the white portion stands for positive aspects of human life.
These paintings are always kept unframed. Not framing these paintings is a traditional way of presenting them. When not displayed, they are rolled up anfd kept as scrolls. This preserving manner ensures they are durable.
The size of Thangkas is smaller in comparison to average portraits. However, some of the Thangkas are very huge in size.
Procedure: These paintings are made by skilled artisans who are well versed in Tibetan language, culture and religion. The hues are picked in line with the painting relevance for example blue stands for depth, orange for spirituality, and red for passion. They have different categories such as coloured, black background, applique, block print, embroidery, golden background and red background.
These Thangkas paintings are made using stone colours or colours extracted from vegetable or minerals. They also extensively use golden dust and golden thread that lend a rich look. The canvas for these paintings is both paper and cloth. These paintings have rich silk and brocade borders. They also have engraved or embossed silver knobs at the ends. One small painting takes a month to complete and a large elaborate one requires more than two months of hard work.
This style of painting plays a pivotal role in economic growth of India. This is one of the most demanded export item from India. It has a huge demand overseas and is exported to over 100 nations, a few of them are U.K, Germany, Netherland, Italy, France and Gulf Countries etc.
Bring Home Thangkas: You can buy these paintings from the local markets as well as the famous handicrafts market at Gangtok, Pelling, Kalimpomg etc.