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Thanka - A Marvelous Spectacle of Tibetan Culture

Thanka (transliteration from Tibetan language) means the special painting scroll of Tibetan Buddhism mounted with colored satin. Thanka can be found in any Tibetan monastery, worship hall, monk dormitory and even houses of followers, since it is the symbol of Buddhists and the objects for kowtowing and worshiping. Thanka enjoys high artistic value and is a marvelous spectacle in Tibetan culture.

According to different materials, Thanka falls into two categories. One is made of silk and is called gos-thang; the other is achieved with pigment and is called bris-thang. Gos-thang can be divided into five sub-classes: gos-thang with embroidered portrait(s), gos-thang with silk surface, gos-thang made up of pasted silks, gos-thang woven by hands and gos-thang printed with moulding board. Bris-thang can be divided into five sub-classes: tsho-thang (background is multicolor), gser-thang (background is yellow), mtshal-thang (background is vermilion), he-thang (background is black) and dpar-thang (by method same as that of water printed). The subject matters of Thanka are much diversified, including religious themes, social history and life custom, and even astronomy, calendar and traditional Tibetan medicine.

Most Thankas are drawn on cloth or paper. Special rite must be held for artistic monks or painters before they began their work on a selected auspicious day. The monk or painter recites sutras while preparing the materials.

The pigments used in Thanka come from opaque minerals and plant dyes. In addition, some animal glues and cattle bile are added into the pigments according to specific proportions. In this way, the Thanka can last for several thousand years without any fading.

In addition, there is another Thanka art (called as Gaoxiu Thanka), but it is at the brink of being lost. In the whole Tibetan region, such Thankas can only be found in the Kumbum Monastery. As to such Thankas, colorful silk satins are cut into various sceneries and figures of Buddha with wool or cotton filling so that the central part humps up. Then, the surface is embroidered with silk threads. Such Thanka therefore presents the third dimension to viewers.

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