Tibetan Thangkas

The thangka is a traditional Tibetan form of religious art which may include buddhas, bodhisattvas, meditational deities, great teachers, and mandalas. In Tibetan the word thang means flat and the suffix ka stands for painting. The thangka is thus a kind of painting done on flat surface but which can be rolled up when not required for display. They are distinctively Tibetan, highly religious, and possess a unique art style of their own. Tibetans have always considered the thangka as a treasure of tremendous value.

Artist Ngawang of Potala Paintings is an expert Thangka painter.

Thangkas Hanging in a Temple

Thangkas Hanging in a Tibetan Temple

Most thangkas are scroll paintings usually framed in a rich colorful silk brocade and have a thin silk veil covering the front surface. A thangka is painted or embroidered and hung in a monastery or a family altar and carried by lamas in ceremonial processions.

Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche)
Yamantaka (Yidam)


Thangka of Avalokiteshvara

Thangkas are painted on cotton canvas with water soluble pigments, both mineral and organic, tempered with a herb and glue solution. The entire process demands great mastery over the drawing and perfect understanding of iconometric principles.

The execution of a thangka painting can be divided into six steps:

Close-up of Avalokiteshvara

Close-Up of Thangka of Avalokiteshvara

Avalokiteshvara (Tib.Chenrezig)was a bodhisattva who made a vow to Amitabha (Tib.Opagme) to take responsibility for the enlightenment of all beings. He vowed that if he failed, his head would burst into 1,000 pieces. Then, upon observing and realizing the terrible state and motivations of sentient beings, he became sad. He relinquished his vow when he realized the magnitude and impossibility of the task. Thereupon, his head exploded. Amitabha, seeing this, came down and collected the pieces and asked him to repeat his vow. Then Chenrezig was given 1,000 eyes and hands and 10 faces (one for each direction) to enable him to manage the task. Amitabha then crowned the top of his head, making 11 faces in all.

Avalokiteshvara is the patron of Tibet.