A little about Thanka and Mandala Paintings

During my last visit to Nepal, while exploring the ancient city of Bhaktapur we came across this fascinating art of Thanka and Mandala paintings. The colours, the intricate work on them…will want to you to know more about the paintings. Here’s what I learnt.

Thanka Paintings

The art of Thanka is is highly impressed from Buddhism. A Thanka is painted or embroided Buddhist banner which is hung in a monastery or that is carried by lamas in a religious procession. In Tibetian, ‘Than’ means flat and ‘ka’ means painting. This religion art is used as a meditation as well as a teaching tool which depicts the life of Buddha, describing historical events. Estimated to have origination from Tibet back in 11th Century, these paintings are majorly done by the monks themselves.


The steps in creating a Thanka painting are:

1. Canvas making: Thankas are either created on cotton or silk canvas
2. Sketching: The sketching, which is the next important step of the Thanka painting are done with very specific measurements in drawn grids.
3. Colouring or sketching: This is the most difficult part of the Thanka painting. Mix of colours provide the much required depth and takes weeks to complete
4. Outlining: Indigo and Lac dye are mostly used for outlining over the edges of the colour.
5. And then finally, Gold work: Soft gold is often mixed with glue and water, which is then applied to enhance the look of jewellery drown on the deities.

Mandala Paintings

Mandala is a Sanskrit term, which simply means circle. The Mandala is a graphic representation of the process of meditation. As an image, a mandala may symbolize both the mind and the body of the Buddha. The art of Mandala geometric pattern that represents the cosmos. The essence or purpose of the Mandala is concerned with the process of invocation, the calling in and realization of the spiritual force within the contemplator himself.

The most popular form of this art is the ‘Kalachakra Mandala’, the wheel of time which is made with colourful sands. Traditionally, the Kalachakra initiation is a twelve day initiation by Dalai Lama’s and his holiness and is a closely guarded secret. The destruction of a sand mandala is also highly ceremonial. Once the entire painting is completed by them, the painting is destructed and the sand is collected in a jar which is then wrapped in a silk and released into a river or nature symbolizing world peace.

There are various types of Mandala Paintings. And if you wish to explore more and learn how to do one, I would recommend you one of the oldest school in Bhaktapur – Lama Thanka Centre. Here they will teach you how to draw this intricate art for free and educate you more about the same. If you are interested in buying one and add to your collection, you could do as well.


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