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 aidto meditation through the visualisation 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). 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 philosophywhen narrating before an audience.Thangkas also have public ceremonial uses. Up until today some monasteries possess huge(usually appliqué) thangkas that are unrolled on certain holidays for viewing and worship, as you seeon the picture on the right.On a deeper level thangka paintings are the visual expression of the fully awakened state of enlightenment,this being the ultimate goal of the Buddhist spiritual path. That's why a thangka is sometimes called'the roadmap to enlightenment'. To sketch the figures in a thangka the painter needs an exact knowledge ofthe measurements and proportions of each deity as established by Buddhist iconography and artistic practice. A grid containing these proportions is essential to establish the continuity and correct transmission of the figures.
January 10th, 1999