Shop For Unique, Excellent Thangkas In Beijing

Thangkas are a unique, popular Tibetan art form that originated in the Songtsan Gampo era of Tibet. Initially a type of painting designed based on the Nepalese style, it later developed into a mesmerizing, full-fledged art form with its unique beauty and function. In its last stage of development during the 18th century, it was heavily influenced by the elements of traditional Chinese paintings. To pay tribute to their gods, Tibetan monks and commoners alike carry a thangka with them as they travel from place to place. When in Beijing, remember that some local shops here have exquisite thangkas for shoppers and tourists like you in Beijing.

Thangkas are a type of scroll painting that can be easily rolled up for storage. Most thangkas are either hung on the wall of a house or carried by a monk or traveler when moving around to different places. Because Tibetans are traditionally a nomadic people who are also deeply religious, they need an easy-to-carry item like a thangka to help them communicate with gods on their journeys.

In many ways, thangkas are like Buddhist statues. Both of them are used as a medium through which people pay tribute to their gods, say prayers, and make requests. But the difference is also obvious: whereas a Buddhist statue only represents a certain deity in Buddhism, a thangka shows the deity and depicts his/her life stories, important events, and the Buddhist teachings associated with the deity. Such depiction is aimed to educate, enlighten, and enhance the contemplative experience of the Buddhists who study them.

On a thangka, no detail is too small to ignore. Everything, like the color, the clothes, and the positions or postures of the people, contains bits of information that contribute to the profound symbolism of the overall image. For a Buddhist, the teachings of Buddhism can be learned by memorizing these details and imaging the image in their minds.

Thangkas are also used by traveling monks as an educational tool. Even nowadays, there are monks who carry thangkas to remote regions to teach the locals the stories of Buddhism. On important dates, Tibetan monks will bring out precious thangkas kept in their monasteries for public display and carry them in ceremonial processions.

Most thangkas are painted by hand on a cotton canvas or silk, but a few of them are embroidered or made of precious materials like pearls and gold. Making a thangka is usually an extremely complex process that employs a variety of techniques and paints. Paint made of natural minerals is often used, giving the pictures a bright and unique color that can last hundreds of years. Such paintings require a mastery of different drawing skills and a deep understanding of Buddhism and Tibetan culture. Since every detail on a thangka contributes to the overall symbolism through subtle hints, only a properly trained artist can make a thangka.

Depending on the method of production and materials used, thangkas can be grouped into two main categories: “Bris-Tang” and “Go-Tang.”

“Bris-Tang”: Thangkas that are painted are called “Bris-Tang.” The five specific types of this category are: Multi-Colored, Gold Background, Vermilion Background, Black Background, and Block Printing “Bris-Tang.”

“Go-Tang”: “Go-Tang” thangkas are thangkas that are embroidered or made of silk. There are also five specific types in this category: Embroidery, Applique, Glued Applique, Hand-Woven, and Block Printing “Go-Tang.”

Colors on thangkas are not randomly used. Different colors represent different themes or different characters. Red is used for life stories of the Buddha. Black is the theme color for depicting gods whose main duty is subjugating evils. Blue is used to convey a sense of joy. Green is used to show activity. And white represents calm and compassion.

When in Beijing, check out the beautiful, authentic thangkas in many of the city’s shops. For shoppers unfamiliar with the local business, it’s best to find a Beijing tour guide to help with the shopping.