What is thanka?

Thanka is purely a Buddhist art and is a painting done on a flat handmade cotton and silk canvas depicting divinities or patterns which can be easily rolled up and transported. Thanka play an important role in Buddhist rituals by providing support during the process of visualization.

How to make Thanka Painting?

  1. Preparation of cotton surface:
    First a piece of canvas cotton material is obtained and stretched on wooden frame. A mixture of yak or buffalo glue and white clay is evenly applied to the cotton surface. The cotton is then left to dry cotton in a dark place. When the cotton is dry a portion of it is slightly moistened. This is done in order to distribute the mixture uniformly over the cotton gauge. Then the surface is rubbed with a smooth stone, which absorbs moisture. While rubbing the frame should be supported from behind by a smooth wooden board. The process continues until the flat cotton surface is ready to use for painting.
  2. Outline drawing (sketching):To begin with, if the artist is conversant with iconography of the deity, some line sketches of the deity are made on cotton surface. In ancient Thanka painting, Artist draws figures according to econometric principles or graph measurement. Every novice artist traced his master’s drawing. An artist should have great mastery over the drawing process. He should have an understanding of econometric principles and philosophy behind his subject matter. The execution of the drawing requires profound vigilance and patience. After all, the art of Thanka painting is itself a form of meditation. Master artist draw freehand sketch straight on cotton canvas. A novice artist makes a copy of sketch prepared by the master artist and traces it on canvas.
  3. Coloring:
    In tantric Buddhist tradition, color has profound spiritual significance. The sadhaka gives expressions to his psychic experience through the symbolism of color. The five basic colors namely-white, red, yellow, blue and green have different religious meanings. Black symbolizes killing and anger, denotes rest and repose, yellow stands for restraint and nourishment, red is indicative of subjugation, and green symbolizes exorcism. In traditional Thanka paintings only primary color red, yellow, blue, black and white. In additional, indigo blue and crimson Lac are two supplementary colors which enhance the effect of graduation. Yak’s glue is the medium of all opaque colors. These primary colors one can make any colors on choose.
  4. Shape Lining:
    Shape lining is an important step in the process of Thanka painting. Each object depicted in the Thanka requires precise outlining. The skilled artist may be recognized by his mastery of outlining details. Which should remain harmonious througho ut the painting? Harmonious throughout is at the heart of the Thanka painting skill. The process of outlining shape takes place during the initial coat. When fundamental colors are laid down principal designs such as background elements, Tirana, ornamentation, clothing, lotuses, thrones, and so forth are filled in during this shape lining process.
  5. Shading:
    Master artist use a special shading technique called ‘wet and dry shading’ Dry shading is executed with only one brush, thereby producing a graduation with dark colors. The purpose of this shading technique is to introduce gradation by applying dark colors like crimsons lace over light colors such as red, orange, yellow and white. White indigo is used to add highlights over a green or blue base. The technique is mostly used to give a solid, three dimensional effects to objects. Generally the background of the painting is shaded first, and then he artist proceeds to shade the central objects. One of the features of a master art is that, an artist often spends several months and even years for a major Thanka painting.
  6. Ornamentation:
    There are both simple and elaborate methods for rendering gold ornaments. Especially large ornaments are painted first with yellow ochre as a primary coat. Gold is then painted flat on the yellow ochre and lining is executed on top of the gold, giving rise to various shapes and designs. Following this, the artist uses different colors to simulate the effects of stones or jewels, as required. With the exception of these ornaments, gold is the last pigment to be laid down over certain areas of the Thanka, e.g. clothing, lotuses, toranas and other decorative patterns. In these cases, the artist can use various designs as he desires. The use of gold in painting stems form the patron’s wish to make a pious offering. Offering gold brings forth tremendous merit, depending upon the attitude and motivation of the sponsor.
  7. Finishing:
    After completing the facial features, finally the eyes of the deities are painted. When the painting is finished, there remains the final task of consecration n (pratistha of the painting) which is performed by a Tibetan Rinpoche. During consecration, the Rinpoche sits in meditation, recites mantras and performs rituals, invokes the deity concerned, etc.