Thangka, A Unique Tibetan Culture
Thangka, seen in every monastery and family shrine in Tibet, is actually a kind of Tibetan scroll-banner painting and is a unique art form that belongs to the Tibetan culture.
What is Thangka
Thangka has been in vogue in Tibet for centuries. In Tibetan, "Thang" means "unfolding" or "displaying", and Thangka means "silk, satin or cloth painting scroll". It is most often painted on scrolls or embroidered on wall hangings of silk or other cloth. Common at monasteries, lamas' residences, family halls for worshipping Buddha and homes of Tibetan Buddhists, Thangka is a mark of devotion to Buddhism and often serves as an object of worship.
Nobody knows where and when Thangka originated, but comparing with Tibetan painting, the history of Thangka can be traced back to as early as the Tubo period (or Songtsam 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. Thangka of this period had three characteristics:
1. Thangka in larger number;
2. Different schools developed;
3. Appearance of many painting organizations.
Of the existing Thangkas, most were made during the Ming and Qing dynasties.
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