Buddhist art dates back to the 7th century which spread across the entire region. The most popular of these is the thangka painting. In Sikkim, you may see thangka painting and the various creative traditions that go with it all over the place. These cover a wide range of interfaces. They may be found in two-dimensional wall paintings, three-dimensional woodcraft, mask creation, and architecture. Initially, these paintings were the sole medium available for preaching Buddhism’s greatest principles. The majority of ‘Thangkas’ are composed of cotton canvas with a silk frame. These paintings depict representations of many Buddhist Gods, Goddesses, and ideologies. 

Paintings were first created by priests and monks, and the talents were eventually passed down from generation to generation. Today, monasteries and practitioners benefit from the commercialization of this art. These paintings are done directly on earthen walls that have been given a smooth layer of gypsum or white clay on the surface. Buddhist murals use the same motifs as thangka painting but on a much bigger scale.

A wall gives the artist more room to explore a topic than a thangka’s small surface. Murals with a narrative flow, especially those found in monasteries, are common. The Namgyal Institute of Tibetology in Gangtok, Sikkim, has a secular application of the same art. The institute is built in traditional Tibetan architecture and serves as a major center for Tibetan studies.

Commissioning a thangka is considered a means of generating spiritual merit. In times of particular hardship, an individual can consult a lama to recommend the creation of a thangka to a particular deity. In Sikkim – a significant center of Buddhism in north eastern India – birth and especially death, are occasions when a special thangka is commissioned.

Thangka paintings are important tools to depict Buddha and his teachings as well as that of other deities and bodhisattvas. The most prominent subject is the Bhavachakra (Wheel of Life) which is how the Art of Enlightenment is visually represented.

Today printed iterations and poster size of the thangka paintings are commonly used for prayers and decoration. Many paintings were produced in sets, though they have become separated as time went on.

Thangka paintings are teaching tools that describe historical events. Devotional images act as the centerpiece during a ritual or ceremony and are often used as a medium for prayer requests. Overall, religious art is used asmeditation tool to further walk the path of enlightenment.

A Buddhist Vajrayana devotee uses a thangka image of the meditation deity (yidam) as a guide by visualising himself as the deity, thus evoking the qualities of the Buddha within them.

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