Different Subjects In Tibetan Thangka Art

Subjects in Thangka Art

Thangka is traditional Tibetan artwork .There are no exact numbers on how many subjects are there in thangka art. In fact no exact date of the start of thangka art is known. All we have is the proof written in the journals of the travelers back in the days that mentions the paintings painted on a cotton canvas. So roughly there is believed to be more than six seven hundreds subject matters thangka can be painted. But to make it easier for everyday to understand thangkas can be categorized into five different major terms.

  1. Mandala

Mandalas are the most common category of thangka. As matter of fact Mandalas are famous all around the world in this 21st century. Anything in circular that we see on thangka art are basically mandalas. In another way this can also be considered as an aerial view of palace or stupas. Each and every deity has their own mandala. Mandalas are also an essential tool for meditation used by various masters and monks. And most of the mandalas are also made out of sand. Kalachakra mandala by His Holiness the Dalai Lama is one of the reasoning examples of it.

2.Buddha’s Life Story

Unlike other categories in Thangka art Buddha’s Life story is pretty unique. It can be done in horizontal or vertical canvas. It explains about each and every important stages of Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama’s) life. The center part of the painting will always have the stage where he achieved enlightenment. This particular stage is also an example for us to understand the true meaning of human life. Other stages simply show us his other stages from his birth to his death.

3.Wheel Of Life

The wheel of life can always considered as the most important thangka art. It is probably the only design/subject that must be featured on each and every Tibetan Buddhist monastery. This subject is about the theory of rebirth and reincarnation of all the sentient beings according to their own karma. So we can understand that the wheel of life is basically the teaching of Buddha in a graphic form. Figure wise it’s a demonic figure called shenje9 god of death, Yama) holding a wheel that consists of different realms with their own purpose.

4.Single And Multiple Deity figures

These kinds of subjects can be considered as the oldest form of thangka art. According to the journals from the travelers back in the days single and multiple deity figures of thangka were explained. And these were also the subjects which were painted under the roof of the monastery by Tibetan monks and nuns. In Buddhism there can be over hundreds and hundreds of deity figures who has their own significance and importance. Each and every deity will also have different postures and manifestations. These points give us the example that there are uncountable subject matter in thangka art.

5.Way To Nirvana

Way to Nirvana simply shows us the path to true happiness by purifying ourselves rather than the complex nature of the other subjects. Way to Nirvana is not necessarily included in each and every Tibetan monastery’s walls. Unlike the wheel of life it is more like a journey that one has to take with a lot of obstacles as well as distractions to our main goal, which is achieving the Nirvana. This very well explains Nirvana doesn’t come easily yet is not impossible.


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