Every foreign word contains the explosive material of enlightenment, contains in its
controlled use the knowledge that what is immediate cannot be said in unmediated
form but only expressed in and through reflection and mediation.
—Theodore Adorno, Notes to Literature
A "Thangka," also known as "Tangka", "Thanka" or "Tanka" is a Tibetan silk painting with embroidery, usually depicting a Buddhist deity, famous scene, or mandala of some sort. The thankga is not a flat creation like an oil painting or acrylic painting. Rather, it consists of a picture panel which is painted or embroidered, over which a textile is mounted, and then over which is laid a cover, usually silk. Generally, thankgas last a very long time and retain much of their lustre, but because of their delicate nature, they have to be kept in dry places where moisture won't affect the quality of the silk. It is sometimes called a scroll-painting.
This is the first idea one finds when one opens the link of wikipedia by searching the word”tangkha”.But probably it meant things,much more to the people who painted them,with such geometric finesse and precise designs.This typical style of painting has different schools,but only the ancestral legacy of talent can help to generate true meanings of these works.tangkhas were designed to deliver meanings of several different ideas.Some were transperent,others purposefully impenetrable.Thus symbolically and indexically operating at the edge of language’s ability or inability to convey meaning
On the basis of techniques involved and materials used thangkas can be grouped into several categories. Generally they are divided into two broad categories: those which are painted (called bris-than in Tibetan) and those which are made of silk either by weaving or with embroidery (called gos-than). The painted thangkas are further divided into five categories:
Thangkas are painted on cotton canvas with water soluble pigments, both mineral and organic, tempered with a herb and glue solution.
Tibetan painters pay great importance to the preparation of the painting surface since Thangka paintings are to be rolled up for storage and then unrolled for display. Any sort of defect due to neglect may cause cracks or make the paint peel off. A piece of cotton cloth of slightly open weave is stitched on to a narrow wooden frame along all its four sides. This lightly framed cotton is then tightly stretched over a larger wooden frame or stretcher with a stout thread by a system of crisscross lacing. After setting up the cloth in the frame it is treated from both the front and back with a thin layer of gesso, which is made up of glue and zinc oxide. The canvas is then burnished on both sides with a stone or conch shell to produce a smooth and lustrous surface.
Before sketching different parts of the composition, eight major lines of orientation are drawn. These include a central perpendicular, two diagonals, a horizontal and four outer borders. Now with charcoal or graphite the rough drawing of the deity in full accordance with the canonical proportions is delineated. Within a given composition, the center stage is invariably occupied by the principal personage, while all acolytes and attendants are greatly reduced in size to further emphasize the majesty and enormity of the central figure.
Color is more than a visual proposition in Sacred Buddhist Painting. The five basic colors white, yellow, red, black and green have different symbolic meanings. Black symbolizes killing and anger, white denotes rest and repose, yellow stands for restraint and nourishment, red is indicative of subjugation while green is the known hue of exorcising practices. The palette of the Thangka painters has been classified into 'seven father colors' and one 'mo ther color'. The seven father colors are: deep blue, green, vermilion, minimum orange, maroon, yellow and indigo. The mother color is white which interacts perfectly with all these hues. The lighter shades resulting from the mixture of 'father' and 'mother' were referred to as their sons. Written evidence from the eighteenth century identifies fourteen such 'sons'.
For any large project, the master painter first visualizes the final color scheme and indicates them on the sketch with an abbreviated notation system. While applying the colors the painter proceeds from the distant parts to those parts stationed near him.
After laying the initial coats of flat color the painter proceeds to apply thin coats of dyes diluted in water. Shading in Tibetan Thangkas is always done to add effects of volume and dimension to the form be it a human figure, an anthropomorphic image of some deity or clouds, water, flames, rocks, flowers, curtains, seats, etc. Cast shadows and highlights are unknown aspects of the pictorial imagery of the Thangka. Very often the empty green field of the foreground is shown fading gradually into the horizon and such effects are obtained with 'wet shading', a technique of gradual blending of two adjoining areas of wet paint.In an essentially linear pictorial expression like the Thangka, the art of outlining plays a significant role. To set off objects from the background or to demarcate subdivisions of a certain form, or to emphasize a swirling mas
flames, painters select the indigo and lac dyes for perfect results. At this final stage the facial features are finished and the eyes of the deities are painted. For this 'eye opening' an elaborate consecration ritual on an auspicious full moon day is fixed and only after the vivification ritual does the painter complete the eyes in swift sure strokes. The whites of the eyes are softened with orange and red at the corner ends, eyelid edges are darkened and then the iris is added according to the required stance of the deity. The two most commonly fashioned varieties of eyes are 'bow eyes' and grain eyes' besides a few fearsome looking ones for the wrathful deities.
In order to turn the areas of gold shiny they are burnished gently with an onyx tipped tool after placing a wooden support against the back of the canvas.
Next, the cord fastenings are cut with a knife and the painting is removed from the stretcher. The Thangka is then mounted with Chinese silks. Often the Thangka is provided with a cover of gossamer silk. When the Thangka hangs on an altar the cover is gathered up to the top and acts as a curtain. Two narrow sticks are attached to the top and the bottom so that the Thangka can be easily rolled up for storage or for a journey.
Most Tibetan artists do not sign their works. Every act of creation is considered to be divine with the artist simply serving as a mortal instrument, and so his own identity is inconsequential. Also, attaching one's name to a work is considered an egotistical act, and it is the duty of the artist, like all pious Buddhists, to destroy the ego.(by Nitin kumar in the website,Exotic Indian Arts)
The religious paintings like that of Mahakala ,Manjushri or Buddha were considered as images(Xiang),and implications representing authentic visions such as paintings of the emperor resembling any of the deities were called pictures.The Tangkhas were not just not just old pieces of painted cloths to shock the viewers or to invoke strange images in their minds.They demand cautious weighing ,to unveil the many layered meanings of the artists’ intention.The emperor commissioned the court painter ,to paint him or his majestic deeds.On the other hand the monk painters painted them to infiltrate the divine tradition of Gelukpa or Tibetian Buddhism among his disciples.But the main aim was to preserve the sutras and precepts for the future generations.
For instance the tangkha available at wikipedia,depicts Sakyamuni or buddha as the centre of meditative thought with sun and moon on the either side.considerably smaller pictures of Manjushri and white tara.It presents an orderly spiritual world with dominant use of cool colours,inhabited by familiar and memorable faces.This is completely religious.May be this type was used as teaching aids in monasteries to educate students about tantric buddhism.These scrolls were mainly popuplar after pundits like Atisa Dipankara were sent from India,to rejuvenate Buddhist “Dharma” in tibet,which was dominated by tantric practises.tankhas became popular as they could be rolled and easily transported from one monastery to the other.
Thus this form of painting acted as a media,echoing the past.Its roots may be traced back to the birth of buddhism.Inspite of assimilation of different cultures like Chinese,Mongoloid,Tibetian,Nepalese,Chagatai turks,Indians and lastly European, the tradition speaks for itself and its bygone painters.