The world of Thangka painting is quite immersive and wide-ranging. Buying your first thangka can be equally challenging in today's market because of its wide variety of style in depiction. It is also important to note that thangkas, unlike regular paintings, aren’t simply pieces of art but are windows into the spiritual realm that offers a connection with deities, embodying centuries of tradition and culture. Thangka paintings hold a versatile role in Tibetan Buddhism (Vajrayana) , embodying Buddha's essence and providing a focal point for meditation.
Every Thangka radiates positive vibrations, inspiring introspection and appreciation for Buddhism's beauty and wisdom. These artworks offer a transformative journey, awakening the spiritual realm.
So, it is very important to be careful and attentive to analyze every aspects of a thangka before making a purchasing decision. Here are our 10 tips, you should not miss, if you are buying a thangka for the first time.
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5 points to Note While Buying a Thangka Online
Like everyone, the first thing we all do when we need to buy the thangka online is search on Internet, using the keywords like "buy thangka online", "online thangka for sale", "hand painted thangka", "best place to buy thangka" and so on...
Yes, but the result obtained from the search can be at times, overwhelming and confusing. Your screen is often flooded with multiple numbers of websites from each part of the world, each of them claiming to be the best of its own kind.
But we are here to discuss few of the important tips that will help you to confidently purchase the right thangka for your desired purpose.
1. Aesthetic Essence: A deeper connection with the divinity
As mentioned earlier, thangkas encapsulate a wealth of symbolism that carries deep meaning within the realm of Buddhism with their intricate details and vivid colors. These sacred artworks serve as visual representations of spiritual concepts; they possess an aesthetic essence that transcends their physical appearance. It is essential to understand the symbolisms embedded within Thangka paintings and choose, accordingly to your inclination or even intuition, something that speaks to your heart, allowing you to establish a profound connection with the divine.
Thangkas, with their vibrant colors and intricate details, offer a window into Tibet's rich cultural and religious heritage. These unique artworks encompass various subjects, from religious figures and historical events to everyday life and folklore. The specific content can vary; however, several recurring themes and subjects can be found in these captivating artworks. Some of the more common subjects for thangka paintings are:
- Portraits of Bodhisattvas: Embodying Compassion and Enlightenment
Bodhisattvas are enlightened beings who compassionately postpone their liberation to help others and are frequent subjects of thangka paintings. These divine figures, such as Avalokiteshvara and Manjushri, embody wisdom, compassion, and spiritual awakening. These bodhisattvas inspire devotion through serene expressions and symbolic gestures and serve as guiding lights on the path to enlightenment.
- Mandalas: Gateways to Sacred Realms
Intricate geometric patterns representing the universe, mandalas often form the centerpiece of thangka compositions. Mandalas serve as visual aids for meditation and spiritual contemplation. These cosmic diagrams symbolize the interconnectedness of all phenomena and provide a roadmap to higher states of consciousness. Mandalas in thangkas are meticulously crafted, with every element holding specific symbolic significance.
- Tibetan Buddhist Deities and Buddhas: Manifestations of Divinity
Thangkas frequently feature depictions of Tibetan Buddhist deities and Buddhas. Divinities like the Padmasambhava, known as the "Lotus-Born," the central figure revered for spreading Buddhism throughout Tibet, and the 21 manifestations of Divine Tara are commonly depicted. Along with them, several other deities and their emanations also grace thangka paintings.
- Jataka Stories: Narratives of the Buddha's Previous Lives
Jataka stories, tales recounting the previous lives of the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, are another recurring theme in thangka paintings. These narratives offer moral lessons and depict the Buddha's journey toward enlightenment through various incarnations. Each Jataka story carries profound teachings, showcasing the virtues of compassion, generosity, and selflessness.
2. Materials Used and Quality: The Foundation of Authenticity
It is always very important to know the quality of the materials used while making the thangka. Always go for hand painted Thangka and make sure, your thangka is made using the traditional approach on a hand made cotton canvas.
These specific materials have been a part of the artistic tradition and hold more profound meaning. And they are also the secret reason, how a thangka can last a life time. Natural mineral pigments and 24K Gold are significant ingredients for a good thangka.
The pigments are made up of natural mineral dyes and precious metals like gold and silver, further enhancing the artwork's vibrancy and richness. High-quality material is essential to produce meticulous details and divine depictions that exemplify artistic craftsmanship.
However, it is pretty tricky to determine the nature of the materials, especially when purchasing via the Internet, which is far removed from the physical experience. So another way to determine their authenticity and quality would be to check their representation from the visage and expression to the body postures and attributes of the deity.
3. Iconography and Accuracy: A Legacy Preserved
Thangkas are not mere artistic representations; they carry profound symbolism and follow specific iconographic guidelines passed down through generations. Choosing a Thangka that adheres to the lineage tradition and accurately portrays the deity or spiritual figure it represents is crucial. The iconography should reflect the divinity's characteristics and attributes, allowing for a deeper connection and understanding of the spiritual path. Ensure that the Thangka you choose is faithful to its lineage and maintains accuracy in its depictions.
Here are some of the significant iconographic attributes you must be well aware of to ensure the overall quality of the painting:
- Hand Gestures or mudras
Mudras are symbolic hand gestures that find application in Buddhism's spiritual and cultural traditions. These hand gestures are designed based on significant finger patterns and postures to elicit desired mental states or convey specific ideas. Within Buddhism, mudras are essential for expressing and invoking particular states of consciousness, emotions, and energy and establishing a connection with the divine. Each divinity is associated with mudra, which is characteristic of them and symbolizes their divinity. For example, Shakyamuni Buddha with the Dhyana mudra, Tara with the Vitraka and Varada mudra, etc. So it is essential to study the mudras of particular deities and ensure the thangka depiction matches the tradition before purchasing it.
The deities may be depicted wearing traditional monk's robes or elaborate garments like shawls, silk skirts, or tunics adorned with gold patterns. Clothing often represents the attainment of liberation from internal afflictions and disturbances.
The different depictions of the Buddhist deities and other figures convey particular symbolic meanings. The postures these divine beings are represented in are not arbitrary but a conscious and traditional practice. Different postures, like the meditative posture or the dancing postures of wrathful deities, convey elements of their divinity and symbolize greater Buddhist teaching or meaning.
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When purchasing a Buddhist thangka, verifying that it adheres to the specific canons of your Buddhist tradition is essential. However, it is worth noting that the attributes portrayed in thangkas may vary across different texts and practices.
4. Size: Finding the Perfect Thangkas for Your Space
Since thangkas are usually hung across a wall or framed, their size plays a significant role in their suitability for a particular space. Traditional thangkas typically measure between 20 and 50 centimeters, but some can defy the norm. If it is your intention, you can commission thangkas per your need or want. But apart from that, a thangka’s size should be considered according to where you intend to display it and its purpose. If you are looking for a thangka to display at your altar or your meditative spaces, a smaller piece would be perfect that would fit conspicuously and feel more personal. However, if you want to display the thangka in a large area, rightfully opting for a larger one would be wise.
Choosing the size of a thangka is generally a personal decision. It is recommended to you to purchase according to your inclination; however, a large thangka painting would be relatively more expensive than a smaller thangka painting, and the framing cost will also increase accordingly. If you are looking for a more budget-friendly purchase, a smaller thangka painting is always there.
5. Framing the Thangka
Thangkas are essentially ‘scroll paintings’; they are either rolled up and stored for the most part when not in use or hung through a wall. So the choice of framing plays a crucial role in protecting, preserving, and displaying the painting. The frames can be an additional element of aesthetics along with cost. There are options available per your taste, inclination, and budget. So let us look into it in more detail.
- Brocade Framing: Embracing Tradition
Brocade framing is the traditional and timeless choice for framing Thangkas. It involves using intricately woven brocade fabric as a border around the painting, adding an elegant touch to the artwork. These are usually made from silk with embroidery done over it. While brocade framings are a standard in Nepal and Tibet, outside of these areas, these can be hard to commission as they are culturally authentic to these areas. Brocade framings are also not the best for preserving the thangka paintings and are pretty costly.
- Glass Framing: A Western Approach
In Western society, glass framing has gained popularity due to its simplicity and effectiveness in preserving Thangkas. Glass frames offer a transparent barrier that shields the artwork from dust, moisture, and physical damage. Utilizing a glass panel boasts numerous advantages. This framing style is convenient for cleaning, moving, and preserving while being considerably cheaper and more accessible than other framing choices. But due to glasses, there is direct light on the painting that can lead to discoloration and damage over a while.
- Custom Wood Framing
For those seeking a higher-end framing option, custom wood framing is an excellent choice. These frames are specifically tailored to fit the artwork's dimensions, providing a snug and secure enclosure and the optimal level of protection for thangkas. Crafted from hardwood and often coated with gold paint, custom frames add a luxurious touch to Thangkas, elevating their aesthetic appeal. Custom wood framing allows for greater personalization and ensures that the frame complements the thangka's unique characteristics.
Before commissioning a custom wood framing, these are some few considerations to remember:
Acid-free cardboard: All cardboard used in the framing process must be acid-free. This ensures the preservation of the thangka's integrity over time.
Preventing direct contact: Ideally, the paints of the thangka should not come into direct contact with the glass surface. To achieve this, a colored cardboard frame can be inserted between the painting and the glass (as depicted by the red inner structure in the accompanying photo). This colored frame conceals the one-inch border, typically red, that exists on all thangkas.
Adhesive-free fixation: The framer should avoid using glue or adhesive substances to secure the painting. This helps maintain the artwork's authenticity and avoids any potential damage from glue seepage.
While the points mentioned above are helpful to keep at the back of your mind before making a purchase, the essential point would be to spiritually feel a divine connection and not be afraid to follow your intuition. Considering the materials, iconographic accuracy, size, aesthetic essence, and framing, you can ensure that your Thangka authenticates the divine and treasured addition to your spiritual practice or art collection.
Let the beauty and spirituality of Thangkas enrich your life and inspire your connection with the divine.