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Thangka (Tib. ཐང་ཀ་, Wyl. thang ka) — a thangka is a hanging scroll which consists of a painted or embroidered picture panel (called mélong in Tibetan, which means ‘mirror’), usually depicting a buddha, mandala or great practitioner, which has been sewn into a textile mounting. Thangkas are intended to serve as a record of, and guide for, contemplative experience and visualization.

Legend has it that the first ever thangka was made during the lifetime of the Buddha: in the Kalandaka region were two kings, Bimbisara and Udrayana. They used to send each other gifts from time to time and etiquette demanded that they always sent something more precious in return. When king Bimbisara had exhausted all the material goods he could offer back to king Udrayana, he decided to send him a painting of Lord Buddha. This gift was considered far more valuable than all the riches of the three realms.

The final details to be painted in a thangka are the eyes. This is known as "opening the eyes". The thangka is then considered sacred, but it does not become an object of practice until a lama has performed the consecration (Tib. rabné).

Further Reading

  • Amy Heller, Tibetan Art: Tracing the Development of Spiritual Ideals and Art in Tibet, 600-2000 A.D., Milan, 1999.
  • David Jackson, A History of Tibetan Painting: The Great Tibetan Painters and Their Traditions, Wien: Verlag der Österriechischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1996.
  • Tulku Thondup, Enlightened Journey (Boston: Shambhala, 1995), Chapter 5. 'Tibetan Buddhist Thangkas and their Religious Significance'.

External Links