What is Thangka


What is a Thangka painting? Other than a very detailed work of art, that can depict historic life stories and events that have happened in regions of India and Tibet. A Thangka painting is mainly used in a Buddhist sense for meditation practice purposes. Everything in the painting has a symbolic purpose which relates back to Buddhist Philosophy.

For a practitioner a Thangka painting is often used as a visual aid or in Tibetan (Ten-pa, mediation support). A practitioner would visualize this deity whist they are meditating, they would do so by using the Thangka so they can see the correct size, proportions, hand gestures of the deity they are visualizing in their practice.  







Creation of the First Thangka

During the time of the Buddha, when Buddha Shakyamuni was staying in the forest, there where two rich and powerful kings of Magadh called King Bimbisara, and King Utrayana. King Bimbisara was one of the patron disciples of Buddha Shakyamuni. King Utrayana lived with his family and ministers. These two kings had an amicable relationship and would send each other gifts all the time. One time King Utrayanasent King Bimbisara magical suit of armour, shinning like gold, which would protect him from any poison, fire or weapon. King Bimbisara was astonished and delighted, but was unable to think of anything he could give in return that could exceed his gift, so he went to consult his minister. His minister advised him to commission a portrait of Buddha Shakyamuni. He explained that the gift could not be excelled as it would benefit his friend not only in this life time, but for his future karma also. So King Bimbisra invited the best artist to portray Lord Buddhas image, but when the artist tried to sketch the likeness of the great sage he was dazzled by the splendour and radiance if the Buddhas body, so he could not look at him directly. The Buddha therefore suggested that he copy from the reflection of his body cast in a pool of water, and sat so on the banks of the pond and the artist sketched his drawing based on his reflection. They put this artwork with many other offerings that where bought to King Utryana on a magnificent elephant. As soon as the king read the name Buddha Shakyamuni on the accompanying letter, he was overwhelmed by a strong feeling of devotion and the hairs on this body arose on end. He received the thangka with great respect and placed it on a gold throne where he made many offerings to it.

- (sited from Path to Liberation, Konchong Lhadrepa, 2nd Edition 2004)

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