What is Thanka Art?
Thanka, or “scroll painting”, is traditionally known as a painting on silk, satin or cloth with embroidery , usually depicting a Buddhist deity, scene or mandala of some sort.
Originally, Thankas served as important teaching tools depicting the life of Buddha, various influential lamas and other deities and bodhisattvas. as well as philosophy and science. They can also be devotional objects used during rituals and ceremonies, or mediums through which one can offer prayers and make request, or used as a meditation tool to help bring one further down the path to enlightenment.
Today, Lamas stil carry them in ceremonial processions, or they are hung in the monastery or a family altar. They are also now appreciated just as beautiful works of art from a centuries-old tradition.
The literal translation of the Tibetan word THAN KA means ‘recorded message’.
Thankas communicate a message to the practitioner, serving as an aid to teaching and as an aid
to meditation through the visualization of the deity.
It is a medium through which the Buddhist philosophy can be explained.
Originally lamas and monks used scroll paintings to instruct the Buddhist Dharma (teachings).
These paintings were easily transported and unrolled to suit the needs of the mainly nomadic population.
The lama would go to a village, unroll a Thanka and use it to illustrate their tales on Buddhist philosophy
when narrating before an audience.
Thankas also have public ceremonial uses. Up until today many monasteries possess huge
(usually appliqué) Thankas that are unrolled on certain holidays for viewing and worship. On a deeper level, Thanka paintings are the visual expression of the fully awakened state of enlightenment, this being the ultimate goal of the Buddhist spiritual path. That’s why a Thanka is sometimes called
the roadmap to enlightenment. To sketch the figures in a Thanka, the painter needs an exact knowledge of
the measurements and proportions of each deity as established by Buddhist iconography and artistic practice.
A grid containing these proportions is essential to establish the continuity and correct transmission of the figures.