A Thagka of Thanka is a painting on silk, satin or cloth with embroidery , usually depicting a Buddhist deity, scene or mandala of some sort.
The literal translation of the Tibetan word THAN KA means ‘recorded message’. Thankas communicate a message to the practitioner, serving as an aid to teaching and as an aid to meditation through the visualization of the deity. It is a medium through which the Buddhist philosophy can be explained. Lamas and monks used scroll paintings to instruct the Buddhist Dharma (teachings). These paintings were easily transported and unrolled to suit the needs of the mainly nomadic population.
The lama would go to a village, unroll a Thanka and use it to illustrate their tales on Buddhist philosophy when narrating before an audience. Thankas also have public ceremonial uses. Up until today many monasteries possess huge (usually appliqué) Thankas that are unrolled on certain holidays for viewing and worship.
On a deeper level, Thanka paintings are the visual expression of the fully awakened state of enlightenment, this being the ultimate goal of the Buddhist spiritual path. That’s why a Thanka is sometimes called the roadmap to enlightenment. To sketch the figures in a Thanka, the painter needs an exact knowledge of the measurements and proportions of each deity as established by Buddhist iconography and artistic practice. A grid containing these proportions is essential to establish the continuity and correct transmission of the figures.
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