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Garima S Raghav

What are Thangkas?

Why were Thangkas created?

What are the different parts of the Thangka?

What are the materials used in creating a Thangka? And were they created for longevity?

What can go wrong with my Thangka and why?

How can I restore old Thangka? Is the mounting in a Thangka as important as the central painting? Should I just get keep the central painting and discard the old, tattered mounting?

What should be done when Thangka has black sooty depositions?

What should I do if my Thangka / silk wall hanging has tears?

What action should be taken if Thangka / silk wall hanging is exposed directly to water/ gets wet?

What should be done when there are spots or fuzzy mould growth on my Thangka / silk wall hanging?

How to roll a Thangka / silk wall hanging for storage?

Should I frame my Thangka / silk wall hanging?

What are Thangkas?

Thangkas are perhaps the most interesting textiles given their religious context, iconography, and significance. Thangka paintings are a unique art form that belong to Tibet demographically. It is a Buddhist scroll- painting hung in home shrines, temples and monasteries and used for ceremonial processions. In Tibetan the word ‘than’ means flat and the suffix ‘ka’ stands for painting. The thangka is a kind of scroll painting done on flat surface, that can be rolled up when moving or stores/not required for display. The most common shape of a Thangka is the upright rectangular form but there are few that are square (mostly those depicting mandalas).
Let us understand this religious textile painting in detail!

Why were Thangkas created?

Thangkas depicting sacred art (Buddha surrounded by deities or lamas, scenes from His life, cosmic tree, the wheel of life, mandalas, etc.) and spiritual thoughts were widely used in monastery schools as teaching and meditation aids. As they could be easily rolled up and transported, they were used by nomadic monks who travelled between village communities and monasteries to provide religious instructions. They were commissioned both for spiritual purposes (ceremonial thangkas) as well as for homes as religious depictions to ward off evil spirits or bring prosperity.

The thangka, which was worshipped in the past, often contains signs of ritual offerings or inscriptions on the back of the central painting.

What are the different parts of the Thangka?

Thangka is a complex textile construction that is meant to be hung as a scroll painting. The Buddha is surrounded by deities or lamas and scenes from His life; divinities assembled along the branches of a cosmic tree; the wheel of life (Sanskrit bhavachakra), horoscopes, etc. There are four main parts of a thangka:

  • The image (central painting, tempera on cloth)

  • A textile frame/mantle, comprised of hand-stitched pieces of silk brocade textiles including a “door” at the bottom (a piece of textile) through which the viewer symbolically enters the image.

  • A fabric overlay (silk cover/veil and ribbons)

  • A dowel used to roll up the painting, at the base

The four-part construction allows thangkas to be easily rolled up, transported, and stored, as not all thangkas are meant to be continuously displayed. Some thangkas are displayed only during special festivals or to help with specific teachings.

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