What Makes Thangkas So Special? – History and Meaning of This Iconic Art

thangkas painting

Thangkas are a traditional Tibetan art form that has been around for centuries. Thangkas are mostly made by women who often have large families to feed and need to make extra money. However, in recent years people have seen a resurgence of interest in thangkas painting for sale as they become more popular in Western society. Here is everything you need to know about this traditional Tibetan art form.

The history of the thangka

The Himalayan region is known for its traditional textile arts known as Thangkas. Thangkas date back to the eighth century when they were used to preserve Buddhist texts and teachings. There were many thangka paintings for sale and they were usually purchased by people with followers or people who were respected in Tibetan society, but they can also be purchased and sold by anyone.

In the 19th century, there was an explosion of interest in thangka when they began to be exported to Europe. This increased demand for ancient Tibetan thangkas and led to more artists creating them and helped preserve some ancient forms from disappearing from the world. In recent years, however, with big changes happening in Tibet and China, interest in thangka has resurged again among Westerners.

The meaning behind the thangka

Thangkas are a traditional Tibetan art form that has been around for centuries. These Tibetan thangkas paintings vary depending on what the artist has been inspired to create. Thangkas are a large canvas of fabric coated with many layers of painting, usually wool, cotton, or silk. There is no one specific pattern for how to make a thangka and instead, these paintings vary depending on what the artist was inspired to create.  In recent years people have seen a resurgence in interest in this iconic art form as it becomes more popular in Western society.

What is a pattern on a thangka?

Thangkas are made from scraps of fabric that the artist uses until she has enough to make a complete painting. The pattern on the thangka is determined by what the artist chooses to use in her painting, but there are some common patterns that you might see. For example, you might see images of Buddhas or Tibetan deities like Buddha-Lokesvara and Vajrayogini. There is also usually a lotus flower with a couple of leaves in the lower right corner of each thangka because this was believed to be one of Buddha’s favorite flowers.

How are they usually made?

Thangkas are typically made by painting on a piece of cloth with natural dyes. In the past, this process would have been done by hand. There are still artisans in Tibet who produce thangkas using traditional methods. However, the majority of thangkas today are created using machines. This machine-based process allows for the creation of large quantities. of thangkas very quickly and has meant that there has been a high demand for these paintings in recent years as they become more popular around the world.

Thangkas vary depending on what type of dyes are used to create them and can be made from wool, cotton, or silk. The dyeing process is done in two steps: first, the cloth is soaked in water and then a paste made from the indigo dye is applied to the cloth. Then, after it is fully soaked through, the fabric is dyed a specific color such as yellow or blue. Sometimes cochineal dye is also used to create patterns on top of other colors, which gives thangkas their distinct red color.

What are some famous thangkas and artists in Tibetan history?

Over the centuries, Tibetan artists have created over 4,500 thangka paintings. Some of the more well-known thangkas include “The Great Compassion” by Zangpo Dorje Thongmey and “The Wheel of Life” by Lopzang Dorje Tekchog.

Some of the most famous artists are Jigme Lingpa, Namsel Gangte, Lopzang Dorje Tekchog and Thonmi Sambhota.

Although there is no one specific pattern for how to make a thangka, these paintings vary depending on what the artist was inspired to create.


Thangkas offer a perspective on both worldly and spiritual life. They are an important part of Tibetan culture and are an iconic art form. The history of the thangka is well documented and it is often said that “a Tibetan is not a Tibetan if they have not seen a thangka.” So what makes them so special? It is the combination of their history, meaning, and materials that make the thangka.

There are many patterns in thangkas that can be used just as much for meditation as for decoration. The patterns help to bring the wearer into a meditative state, as well as connect them with their spiritual side.

The materials used for making a thangka are also important because they add to the deep meaning behind the art form. For example, in some cases, the artists use their own hair when making the thangkas. This is especially true for those who might die before finishing their work.


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