The History of Thangka Paintings

Often known as the happiest country in the world, Bhutan is home to thousands of priceless thangka paintings, both created in Bhutan and brought to Bhutan from other parts of the Himalayan region.

Thangka paintings go back to a style of religious art originating in India, where Buddhism began more than two thousand years ago. Thangkas are paintings of Buddhist gods, on either cotton or silk which play an important role in Buddhism.

As Buddhism gradually moved to the Himalayas, Himalayan painting began to evolve its own style. And naturally, Bhutan developed a unique Bhutanese style of thangka painting.

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Their Use Today

The word “thangka” means “rolled up” and they earned this name because they are only brought out at special occasions such as weddings or major Buddhist festivals.

Thangkas serve many purposes, from religious mantras for monks in meditation and to commemorate special events, to illustrate religious calendars. Others focus on the lives of famous spiritual or historical figures.

Over time, thangkas can become worn and damaged from handling as well as exposure to dust, soot, insects, light and aging. Some of these works have also suffered damage from accidents such as fires.

While traditional care given to the thangkas has helped minimize problems, these works have gradually become fragile and are in need of restoration.