Thangkas are very traditional art works basically following Buddhist Philosophy. The word “Thangka” comes from an old Tibetan word and are made up of two syllabus i.e. “Thang” (Plain cotton cloth) “Ka or Ku” (Deity). So in order for a painting to be called a Thangka, it has to be done on a cotton canvas.

Thangkas were believed to be originated in Tibet about a thousand years ago as no one knows the exact date of its origination. Only monks and high level masters were allowed or were skilled enough to do these kinds of traditional arts back in the days.

Thangka art is essentially religious in both content and function, and has developed over several centuries, shaped and influenced by religious traditions. It serves as the object of reverence and the field of offering in order for the practitioners to accumulate merits on the one hand and as a means of the visualization on the other hand. Thangka painting has also been used as visual means of disseminating various aspects of Buddha’s teaching and the different events and deeds of the Buddha. Best example of this can be seen in the painting related to Buddha’s life. This type of painting is known as narrative painting because it narrates the account of Buddha’s life story from his decent from the tushita heaven through his birth. His princely life, his reunification of the palace, his teaching to his leaving this world physically and entering into peace. Though there are innumerable varieties and number of painting, essentially they all are various aspects of mind that consist of our thoughts, emotions, affections, and wisdom underlying within every one of us.

Process of Making it


(Pic: Sujan Lama (Master Artist) sketching Shakyamuni Buddha.)


Canvas are created by altering a plain cotton sheet of cloth (white) in a wooden frame or an iron frame. A raw material called white clay or chalk powder are mixed together and applied on the same canvas in order to fill up the fabrics. Then the surface of the canvas is rubbed multiple times with the help of a very smooth stone to smoothen the surface so that it is eligible to be painted on. After these processes are completed, it is dried in the sun.


After the canvas is created, then the master artist starts to draw different subjects with the help of pencils and other essential tools. While sketching, everything has to be proportionate as certain rules and regulations have to be followed by the artists in terms of different subjects they are sketching. Then they start the coloring of the Thangka.


Pic: Nima Lama (Master Artist) coloring the Kalachakra Mandala.

                    Colors they use are very old and traditional. Every colors are made out of stones. We also call it mineral stone colors. Tibet is full of minerals so that’s how Tibetan people discovered these colors out of stones back in the days. The stones are grinned on a motor or a tool into tiny particle forms and then some natural plant dyes are added. Coloring, shading, outlining are all done out of these stone colors.

Gold Application:

Pic: Shakyamuni Buddha

After the coloring is done, gold is applied on the painting as a finishing touch. Gold also symbolizes purity, so in order to purify the Thangka, pure 24 carat gold has to be applied on the painting. It makes it look more beautiful as well as adds more value to the prestige of the painting itself.

As the art of Thangkas were passed on through generations, various changes were seen during these times. Different people started to put their own creativity in it thus different types of Thangkas are painted these days. For eg: Gold Thangkas, Black Thangkas, Red Thangkas, Traditional Thangkas etc.
There are mainly 5 categories of Buddhist Thangka painting.


1. Mandala
2. Buddha’s Life Story
3. Wheel of Life
4. Single or Multiple Deity Figure
5. Way to Nirvana