Kunbi Saree ~ Goa...
Paliem, Goa, India...
A thangka is a complicated, composite three-dimensional object consisting of: a picture panel which is painted or embroidered, a textile mounting; and one or more of the following: a silk cover, leather corners, wooden dowels at the top and bottom and metal or wooden decorative knobs on the bottom dowel. The concept of Original Artistic Intent is difficult to apply to Tibetan thangkas. Thangkas are composite objects produced by painters and tailors with differing intents, skills and training. Iconographic specifications, regional and doctrinal differences in style, changes in form from harsh treatment and altered mountings all complicate the issue.
The literal translation of the Tibetan word ‘THANG KA’ means ‘recorded message’.
The main themes of Thangka paintings are religious.
The creation of fabric Thangkas, mostly made of silk, some of them woven, some embroidered and others made using a technique similar to appliqué, goes back many centuries in Tibet. The appliqué artists do their finest work when they make silk Thangkas. Constructed of hundreds of hand-cut pieces of silk and brocade, these elaborate creations require many months of work.
Mandalas are used in various thangkas, but they are not the same.
The literal translation of the Tibetan word ‘THANG KA’ means ‘recorded message’. Thangkas 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). 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 thangka and use it to illustrate their tales on Buddhist philosophy when narrating before an audience.
Thangkas also have public ceremonial uses. Up until today some monasteries possess huge (usually appliquÃ©) Thangkas that are unrolled on certain holidays for viewing and worship, as you see on the picture on the right. When a Thangka is created, it is not just a work of art. It is an object of devotion, an aid to spiritual practice and a source of blessings for those who create it as well as those who view and meditate upon it. The iconography of a Thangka is rich in information about the spiritual practice of Buddhists.
A Thangka can assist a meditator to learn and emulate the qualities of a particular deity or to visualize his or her path towards enlightenment. It can bring blessings on the household that possesses a Thangka and serves as a constant reminder of the Buddha’s teachings of compassion, kindness and wisdom. Thangkas are intended to serve as a record of, and guide for contemplative experience. For example, you might be instructed by your teacher to imagine yourself as a specific figure in a specific setting. A thangka can be used as a reference for the details of posture, attitude, colour, and clothing. Etc., of a figure located in a field, or in a palace, possibly surrounded by many other figures of meditation teachers, your family, etc. In this way, Thangkas are intended to convey iconographic information in a pictorial manner.
Thangkas come in a wide variety of styles and depict various subjects such as Buddha in his many forms and manifestations, bodhisattvas (enlightened beings), cosmological and astronomical images, and subjects from traditional medicine. A Thangka may also depict historical events from the lives of Lamas or a mandala (a circle which has spiritual and religious significance to Buddhists).
Thangka painting is one of the major science out the five major and five minor fields of knowledge. It’s origin can be traced all the way back to the time of Lord Buddha. The main themes of Thangka paintings are religious. During the reign of Dharma King Trisong, Duetsen the Tibetan masters refined there already well developed arts through research and studies of different country’s tradition. Thangka painting’s lining and measurement, costumes, implementations and ornaments are all based on Indian style. The drawings of figures are based on Nepalese style and the background sceneries are based on Chinese style. Thus, the Thangka paintings became a unique and distinctive art.
Buddhism in Tibet has believed in different iconographies for different purposes. The story begins with Mandalas and how they are used in various thangkas.-
Thangka for Compassion, Green Tara – The Green Tara is often painted on Thangkas and her symbolism is deep yet simple. She can be considered as the Mother, ready to help and love all beings that pray to her. Considered as one of the most important deities in the Buddhist pantheon and widely revered in Tibet, her compassion is infinite. This article will try and shed some light on the symbolism of this Thangka.
The Wheel of Life, Samsara – By Samsara (bhavachakra) we are talking of all existences that are conditioned by: ignorance, suffering and the unexplainable flow of time, often represented by Yama holding the wheel of life. Nirvana, on the other hand, represents the world unaffected by negative emotions, which by definition is the nature of happiness.
Dhyana (Samahita) Mudra: These meditation mudras symbolize the female left hand of wisdom of emptiness over which lays the male right hand of skillful means.
Samsara, The Wheel of Life Part 2 – The Wheel of Life contains twelve unique images each linked to one another called ‘dvadasanga pratityasamutpada’ or the 12 Interdependent Factors. These can be found on the outer most circle, each image has its own symbolism to help us better understand Samsara.
The history of Buddhism in Tibet begins with Bon. The Bon religion of Tibet was animistic and shamanistic, and elements of it live on today, to one degree or another, in Tibetan Buddhism. Although Buddhist scriptures may have made their way into Tibet centuries earlier, the history of Buddhism in Tibet effectively begins in 641 CE. In that year, King Songtsen Gampo (d. ca. 650) unified Tibet through military conquest and took two Buddhist wives, Princess Bhrikuti of Nepal and Princess Wen Cheng of China. The princesses are credited with introducing their husband to Buddhism.
Tibetan Buddhism, the teaching of the Buddha as practiced and taught in Tibet, is at last becoming known to the world. Because of Tibet’s secluded location, the Buddhist tradition developed there for fourteen centuries in relative isolation, unknown or misunderstood by the outside world. The origins of Thangka painting lays not only in Indian Buddhist art, but Nepalese, Chinese, and Kashmiri styles have also influenced its development. The exact time of the origin or history of the thangka or thangka art a religious painting is not yet known. However, History of thangka or thangka art Paintings in Nepal began in 11th century A.D. when Buddhists and Hindus began to make illustration of the deities and natural scenes. Comparing with Tibetan painting, the history of Thangka can be traced back to as early as the Tubo period (or Songtsen Gampo period, about the 7th century), as a combination of Chinese scroll painting, Nepal painting and Kashmir painting. From the relics of Karuo in Qamdo, we can find the trace of Thangka. Until the 7th century, Songtsen Gampo united the whole Tibet and hence a new period in Tibetan history began. Later Songtsen Gampo married Nepal princess Chizun and Tang Dynasty princess called Wencheng, further strengthening the connection of politics, economy, and culture between Tibetan and the Han ethnic groups. The two princesses came to Tibet with a lot of Buddhist scriptures, architecture technology, soothsaying and lawmaking, medical scriptures and many skilled artisans, greatly stimulating the development of Tibetan society, especially the flourishing of Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism culture. At that time fresco alone could not satisfy the need of those disciples. So another kind of art Thangka, easy to carry, hang and collect, appeared and popularized.
During the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911), the central government adopted the system of approving Tibetan chieftain to strengthen the control over Tibet. These methods made contribution to the development of the Tibetan society. So the Ming and Qing dynasties saw a great progress in the development of Thangka. Of the existing Thangkas, most were made during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Historically, Tibetan and Chinese influence in Nepalese paintings is quite evident in Paubhas (Thangkas). Paubhas are of two types, the Palas, which are illustrative paintings of the deities and the Mandala, which is mystic diagrams paintings of complex test, prescribed patterns of circles and square each having specific significance. It attained its classical levels in the Tibetan tradition between the 7th & 12th centuries. It was through Nepal that Mahayana Buddhism was introduced into Tibet during reign of Angshuvarma in the seventh century A.D. There was therefore a great demand for religious icons and Buddhist manuscripts for newly built monasteries throughout Tibet. From the fifteenth century onwards, brighter colours gradually began to appear in Nepalese Thangka.
Because of the growing importance of the Tantric cult, various aspects of Shiva and Shakti were painted in conventional poses. Mahakala, Manjushri, Lokeshwara and other deities were equally popular and so were also frequently represented in Thangka paintings of later dates. As Tantrism embodies the ideas of esoteric power, magic forces, and a great variety of symbols, strong emphasis is laid on the female element and sexuality in the paintings of that period.
Basic painting technique differs with regional style, training of the artist and the funding available to purchase gold, expensive pigments and so on. Also with the number of students or assistants the master painter employed. The Conservator would have to study thangka painting technique to understand. A good way to recognize these techniques is by learning to paint thangkas or by studying incomplete thangka paintings.
APPLIQUE THANGKAS The creation of fabric Thangkas, mostly made of silk, some of them woven, some embroidered and others made using a technique similar to appliqué, goes back many centuries in Tibet. The appliqué artists do their finest work when they make silk Thangkas. Constructed of hundreds of hand-cut pieces of silk and brocade, these elaborate creations require many months of work.
To start with, a full-size image is drawn on paper and the lines are perforated with a needle to prepare a stencil of the desired image. This stencil is placed over the cloth that will form the background and is dabbed with a cloth laden with powdered white chalk to render the drawing visible. The individual figures assembled from silk brocade are stitched onto this background and outlined with silk-wrapped strands of Mongolian horsetail. The completed image is mounted on plain white cotton backing before finally being framed in a brocade border. Apprentices training to make appliqué Thangkas follow the same 3-year curriculum of drawing as Thangka painting apprentices. They become thoroughly familiar with the forms and proportions of Tibetan iconography before learning to mark, cut and sew pieces of silk brocade to assemble brilliant sacred images from them.
Education, In the first three years of study, students learn to sketch Buddhist deities using the precise grids dictated by Buddhist scripture. This allows apprentices both to perfect their drawing technique and to master the vast array of figures, images and symbols belonging to the Tibetan iconographic tradition.
The next two years are spent in learning the techniques of grinding and applying mineral colours and precious metals used in the paintings. In the sixth year, students begin their study of religious texts and scriptures, traditionally used as the subject matter of the paintings. At least ten years of training is required under the constant supervision of a Master to become an accomplished Thangka painter. After the training process is completed, students require an additional five to ten years of experience to become experts in this field.
Thangka paintings require extreme concentration, attention to detail, and knowledge of Buddhism. Therefore, a peaceful environment conducive to meditation is required to create a masterpiece, is essential for a Thangka painter.In preparation for beginning to paint, they learn how to prepare a canvas, how to distinguish the natural vegetable and mineral sources of pigments and how to prepare them. Apprentices begin to paint and develop their skills with colour under the close supervision of the Master Thangka Painter and his assistants. Progressing from painting larger forms to subtle details such as the eyes of the meditational deities, training is complete when the artist is able to work with gold.
IconographiesThangkas are intended to serve as a record of, and guide for contemplative experience. For example, you might be instructed by your teacher to imagine yourself as a specific figure in a specific setting. You could use a thangka as a reference for the details of posture, attitude, colour, and clothing Etc., of a figure located in a field, or in a palace, possibly surrounded by many other figures of meditation teachers, your family, etc. In this way, thangkas are intended to convey iconographic information in a pictorial manner. A text of the same meditation would supply similar details in written descriptive form. Only rarely do thangkas express the personal vision or creativity of the painter, and for that reason thangka painters have generally remained anonymous, as have the tailors who made their mountings. This anonymity can be found in many other cultures. The Conservator is left with the responsibility of caring for religious objects that usually carry neither the names of the artists, nor information about their technique, date or provenance. But we do know that the intent of the artist was to convey iconographic information. There is a vast amount of iconographic information provided in thangkas, some of it literally spelled out for you. If you look closely, many thangkas spell identification of figures and scenes in formal and delicately rendered scripts. ‘Since even indigenous Tibetan scholars trained in the iconographic details of Buddhist deities generally would not presume to know the iconography associated with every deity, it is unlikely that most Conservators could guess the identity and details of unfamiliar figures. In this case, speculation as to the artist’s intent tends to be a particularly unrewarding strategy. For example, a particular shade of the colour green indicates effective activity, while a white often indicates peacefulness and unassailable compassion. It is significant therefore if the same form of a feminine figure is rendered in green or white. Sometimes water damage (yak-hide glue is susceptible to water damage) washes away several fine layers of pigment on final paint layers or shading layers. While the symbolic system often originated in the indigenous traditions of Hinduism and Bon, the actual symbolic images have evolved into a unique and intricate iconography. Tibetan Buddhism has assembled an amazing iconographic symbolism.
– The main system is the organization of deities, which are primarily presented in thangka painting. Therefore, the focus in this text will be the typical symbols of the main deities viewed in the Tibetan refugee community of Dharamshala. Each figure has basic parallel characteristics to inspect for interpretation.
– The typical set-up of a thangka consists of a large central deity, set in a landscape and surrounded by smaller complimentary deities. Every aspect of the painting has symbolic meaning but there are certain ubiquitous features that are necessary to examine in order to understand the entire image. The central deity is obviously of primary importance.
– The physical traits of the primary deity should first be observed in order to identify it. One looks at the position, or asana (zug tang) of the figure, as well as the hand gesture called the mudra (chag gya). One will also notice the physical traits such as the skin color, the number of arms, the number of eyes, and the aura of the deity. A deity will commonly have subsidiary objects such as things held in the hands, a throne, clothing and ornaments. The other deities and the surrounding environment are also important aspects of thangka paintings. This is the typical structure of this form of religious art.
– Another popular subject of thangka paintings is the mandala. Mandalas, first created in ancient India, play an integral role in Tibetan tantra. The topic of the symbolism of Tibetan mandalas could fill a hundred thousand pages and it is not possible to cover it in this document. However, as with the other topics, I will be able to skim the surface of the complex symbolism of a specific mandala.
– The analysis of the symbols applied in thangka paintings leads one halfway to a comprehension of the symbolic system. The other half of this system is the manner in which this system is viewed and retained by the culture as an entirety. Not every Tibetan is able to list the thousands of deities and manifestations of Tibetan iconography. However, there are certain images that all Tibetans are able to relate to and use as reminders and tools in the spiritual process. Therefore, as a collective, Tibetans are a part of the symbolic system of Tibetan iconography, from the beggars on the street to the reputable scholars. The scholar, typically a monastic scholar, will have a more in depth understanding of the system.
– Tantra practitioners have the most contact with the symbols and are a necessary aspect of the continuation of the system.
– In tantra, the practitioner not only views and reveres the different images but also seeks to identify with and symbolically become the images. The objective is to connect the symbolic image with the mental and physical existence of the individual, to make a psychic leap into the symbol and dissolve the self into it.
– In this way, the practitioners themselves can become symbols to the populace. Tibetans are aware of this practice and thereupon are encouraged to utilize the powerful images and carry on the symbolic system.
– In the case of Tantric practitioners, the images and symbols are tools utilized to reach a certain goal. After this goal has been reached, mundane conceptuality ends and the images lose their significance. Like all objects and conceptions of samsara, religious images and symbols lack a true and absolute existence. Therefore, the system of symbols is created and utilized for the ultimate purpose of its own termination. In general, most Tibetans have not reached a state where this realization is possible but know it to be an immutable fact. The religious art of Tibet has used the symbolic system in thangkas for hundreds of years and the basic symbols are common knowledge to the Tibetan populace. The iconography is understood on a fundamental level and is integrated into the religious perceptions of the cultural identity. This, in turn, shapes the collective identity throughout the generations, making the symbolic system an intrinsic part of each individual and the culture in entirety.
Damage was particularly likely, given the tendency of Tibetans to travel long distances in harsh conditions. Thangkas were important articles of the tent culture of nomadic monastic groups in medieval Tibet. This was good for the people but intense for the thangkas! Rolling and unrolling was, and still is, unavoidably damaging for thangkas. Rough handling and damp walls damaged both the paintings and their mountings, in medieval Tibet and today as well.
These incredible works of art always were, and currently are integral to the Himalayan culture and way of life. However, the current reality is that due to a variety of reasons, including political turmoil and economic conditions, there are far fewer trained practitioners of this art. The art of Thangka painting is gradually becoming extinct. Given the rigors of training required to become an accomplished painter, and the fact that there are far fewer commissions, students and practitioners of this art, today are unable to rely solely on Thangka painting as a way of life. This tradition is in serious danger of being lost with time, unless more individuals choose to support the art by the commissioning of Thangkas or by other means.
The thanka painter is supposed to meditate for about fifteen days and one the eve of a full moon is supposed to begin with his new thank painting. He is supposed to abstain from alcohol and addictions of any kind and give up sexual acts till the particular thank he is working on is complete.
‘Canvas: Cloth is sewn onto four lengths of bamboo, which are strung to a large wooden frame.
Paints: Five primary colours are used. Traditionally, the materials included a variety of mineral and vegetable substances: minerals, precious stones, bark, leaves, flowers (especially the rock rose), gold, silver, copper, etc. Each had to be collected from its source in different areas of Tibet, cleaned, ground, powered, crushed or cooked. Nowadays, artists in exile tend to opt for chemical based pigments, easily available for purchase. In an attempt to preserve the genuine tradition of Tibet, I use natural materials as far as possible in my work.
Gold or paint: Globules of gold are bought and put in a mortar with water and grain sized pieces of marble or glass.
Brocade: To mount the painting on.
There is no wastage in the making of Thangka paintings. The leftover paints in the shells can be kept aside and wet and used again for the next painting. The paintbrushes and frame also get used again, once a single painting is done with.
Paint brushes: For painting on rough surfaces, brushes were made out of Nama grass, a tough grass growing along riverbanks. For medium soft brushes, the hair of horses’ tails was uses. For soft brushes of any size, the tufts of hair growing above goats’ hooves, the fine hair inside cows’ ears, the fur of otters, the very soft feathers of mountain songbirds, and the fur of brown and black cats (especially in India where the other hair and fur is not available) are perfect for painting.
Canvas Frame: The canvas frame is made from hardwood and has holes drilled on all four sides for the rope holding the canvas in place to pass through so as to get tied on the corners.
Stone and/or Glass piece: This is required to rub the cloth to prepare it for the painting, so as to make it work like a canvas.
In old Tibet, a thangka was the fruit of a sacred human trio: a lama, a religious practitioner and a thangka artist. The practitioner, having sought the counsel of a qualified Buddhist lama, learned which deity image of the Tibetan pantheon was most beneficial for his or her spiritual practice. He or she then invited a thangka painter to his or her home and hosted the artist with the best possible hospitality for the duration of the painting process. If the requested deity was especially difficult or unusual, the artist consulted with the lama to clarify aspects of the image.
In order that the finished thangka be worthy of the practitioner’s heartfelt devotion, offering and meditation practice, the thangka painter generated a pure intention free of all selfish motives and undertook the task with a joyful mind. There was no discussion of price when the order was placed, and the thangka was not considered a mere commodity bus as a living expression of enlightened energy.
The practitioner must be willing to be patient and refrain from rushing the artist. The combined energy generated by the realized lama, the devout practitioner and the concentrated artist renders the finished thangka particularly sacred. In modern times, it has become necessary to set prices for thangkas, but in old Tibet an artist was paid whatever the practitioner could afford or felt was appropriate. The artist felt grateful and happy regardless of the size or quality of payment.
The thanka painter is supposed to meditate for about fifteen days and one the eve of a full moon is supposed to begin with his new thank painting. He is supposed to abstain from alcohol and addictions of any kind and give up sexual acts till the particular thank he is working on is complete.
Opening the eyes: This is the most important moment of a thangka artist’s work. Before painting the figure’s eyes, the artist bathes and makes offerings to the Buddha’s body, speech and mind. When the eyes have been painted, seed syllables and prayers are inscribed on the back of the thangka to awaken the image’s energy.
The canvas is stretched over a wooden frame using a cord that allows tension to be adjusted after the cloth has been sealed with a moist mixture of chalk and gesso. The surface is polished with a smooth stone or glass, until the underlying texture of the canvas is no longer apparent. The design for the painting is then drawn directly onto the taut surface using charcoal or pencil. Once the initial sketch is complete, the lines are redrawn in ink and the details are refined. Colours are applied, beginning with the distant planes of the painting and completed with gold embellishments. When the painting is finally complete, it is mounted in silk brocade.
The cloth to be painted undergoes a complex process of preparation that takes between 14 to 20 days depending on local climatic conditions. In India’s foggy Himalayan foothills, canvasses for the whole year must be made in the dry months of March, April, October and November. If a canvas is improperly prepared, the entire thangka will be a failure. First, the cloth is carefully sewn onto four lengths of bamboo, which are tightly strung to a large wooden frame. The artist then spreads a cost of glue over the whole canvas and leaves it to dry. He stirs up a mixture of white clay, water and glue in a clean pot to the consistency of thick cream. Blessed medicines or other sacred substances are added if available. The mixture is then strained through fine gauze to remove any impurities and applied evenly to the dry canvas.
When this second coat has dried, the canvas is held up to the light and the areas that have not been evenly coated are patched up with more of the clay mixture and again left to dry. This process is repeated 8-10 times until the entire canvas is evenly coated. The canvas is then laid upon a smooth wooden board and a small area is moistened with water using a soft white cloth. Section by section, the artist vigorously rubs the canvas smooth with a piece of white marble, moistening it with water as he works. This takes about an hour. The entire canvas is then slowly are carefully stretched by tightening the strings tied to the frame and left to dry in indirect sun.
Once dry, the entire procedure is repeated for the other side of the canvas, stretching it after each moistening and leaving it to dry. When it has been thoroughly treated and dried, the canvas should be so tightly stretched that it makes a nice drum sound when tapped. This is the sign it is ready to be painted. The front of the canvas is then polished with a conch shell. .
FOUNDATIONAL LINE DRAWING
At this stage the artist bathes, takes purification vows at dawn, meditates upon his tutelary deity, and performs rituals to clear away obstacles and harmful spirits. Having studied the description of the image to be painted in a religious text and consulted a lama about any confusing details, the artist recites the sacred syllables of the Buddha or deity in question and begins to draw.
Ideally, the artist recites these syllables and visualizes the deity for the full duration of the creation of the thangka. If this is done in a genuine way, the thangka is very different from an ordinary work of modern art and is inherently highly sacred. The foundational lines are done in pencil (followed by black ink in old Tibet) and take between 10 to 30 days to complete, depending on the size and complexity of the thangka.
It takes a full day to prepare the five primary colours. Traditionally, the materials included a variety of mineral and vegetable substances: minerals, precious stones, bark, leaves, flowers (especially the rock rose, gold, silver, copper, etc. Each had to be collected from its source in different areas of Tibet, cleaned, ground, powered, crushed or cooked. While each colour is being mixed, it is continuously tested on the edges of the canvas and allowed to dry. Only after the paint has completely dried does it reveal its true colour.
There is a definite, specific sequence to colour application. In general, the thangka is painted from top to bottom. The first step is the sky, which takes 3 to 6 days. An initial deep blue wash is followed by innumerable slender, lengthwise brush strokes to produce a stipple effect of lines. Then all the blue parts of the thangka (water, clothing, etc.) are filled in.
The dark green landscape and all the dark green areas are next. This is followed by light blue, then light green, red, orange, pink, brown, pale orange, yellow, pale yellow and finally white. When the whole series of base coat colours have been applied and allowed to dry, the thangka is scraped with a razor blade, held at an arched angle to the cloth, to smooth away any roughness in the paint. The dust is brushed off with a soft cloth or feather.
REDRAWING AND SHADING
The original detailed lines of the clouds and flowers which have been covered by paint are redrawn in pencil and traced over in black ink. The artist then shades them with a fine paintbrush. In general, a thangka needs three applications of paint, but flowers require many repeated applications of thin paint to give them their effect of inherent radiance. A single flower may take 3 to 7 days to complete.
PAINTBRUSH MAKING: It takes 3 to 4 days to make about 20 high quality brushes. The handle of the brush is a slender piece of upward growing bamboo cut just above the joint. One-inch long hair clipped from the animal has to be carefully mixed with powder and sorted to find the hairs that resemble a needle in shape. These are carefully extracted and laid side by side perfectly evenly.
Then they are very carefully inserted into the bamboo in such a way that all the hairs lie together in a cone shaped point. They are seized in between the fingertips and dunked into glue. The bamboo is also dunked in the glue, and the hair is then inserted into the bamboo. Each hair must be perfectly in place. Then a string is carefully tied around the bamboo, not too tight and not too loose. The brushes are then left to dry.
Painting the intricate details of the back and foreground landscape and brocade clothing a design follows the same sequence of colour application as above. This takes 18 to 20 days to complete.
BODY SHADING AND FINAL PAINTING
The artist then shades in colour to give shape to the figure’s body and face. The flowers are given final shading and all the minute background details such as fish, deer, birds, fruit and countless grass blades are painstakingly painted.
A considerable quantity of gold is used to highlight and give it its final glorious touches. This entails a strenuous, complex process. Preparing the gold takes 7 to 10 days and applying it takes an additional 6 to 25 days. The artist purchases about 50 grams of gold at a time (no more than five grams are applied to a single thangka) and employs a goldsmith to heat, clean and beat it into sheets.
The artist cuts the sheets into tiny pieces and puts them in a mortar with water and grain sized pieces of marble or glass. He grinds the mixture until the bits of marble or glass are mere dust particles. More water is added and the mixture is covered and allowed to stand overnight. By morning, the gold has sunk to the bottom and the milky mix of marble water is dumped off.
This process is repeated with the addition of glue, and each morning for seven days the surface water is poured off. Finally, only glue is added to the gold and this mix is vigorously ground to extract any remaining impurities. The artist then evenly heats a metal sheet over a medium flame. Adding water and a little glue, he drops tiny dollops of gold onto the hot metal. The water evaporates and the gold hardens into little pellets. A few of these are then dissolved in water, glue and egg white or juice of Sema grass seed. After the gold has been applied to the thangka, it is polished with a gZis stone.
A final 4 to 6 days elapses while the tailor affixes a brocade frame to the completed thangka.
This final step is what distinguishes Tibetan Buddhist practice from ordinary “idol worship.” The practitioner takes his or her newly completed thangka to a highly realized Buddhist master and makes offerings to request the master’s blessings.
The master, endowed with the clear mind of enlightenment, is able to “bring alive” the image on the thangka by infusing it with energy and beseeching the deity to open its eyes and look upon all sentient beings. The thangka, having now been properly consecrated, is a receptacle of wisdom. It is ready to be hung and venerated as a genuine living embodiment of enlightened mind. It is important to note that this final step is only necessary if the thangka artist himself is not acknowledged as a realized being. Over the centuries, many important Buddhist masters have intentionally taken rebirth as thangka painters, and if such an artist creates a thangka, the very mind of the artist naturally consecrates the image being painted. In such cases, there is no need to seek the services of a lama for an additional consecration. These are the steps provides a guide in achieving the desired visual effects required for the creation of quality thangka. However, one must remain aware that it is essential to combine these processes with the correct motivation, philosophy and creative ability to obtain a Thangka of excellence.
List of craftsmen.