February 9, 2011

Traditional Arts : Applique Thangka

Artisans from one of our producer groups, The Norbulingka Institute, make these enticing Thangkas - religious scroll pictures.

Appliqué Thangka are religious pictorial scrolls, an important artistic form in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Tibetan Buddhist painting is perhaps one of the most complex and sophisticated art forms.  They are detailed and aesthetic; they symbolize the religious, mystical consciousness.

The creation of fabric thangkas, mostly made of silk, some of them woven, some embroidered are made using a technique similar to appliqué, goes back many centuries in Tibet. The appliqué artists at Norbulingka do their finest work when they make silk thangkas. Constructed of hundreds of hand-cut pieces of silk and brocade, these elaborate creations require many months of work.
Fabric pieces cut
Then the fabric pieces are assembled together
Known in Tibetan as göchen thangka (precious-cloth scroll images) or göku (cloth images), these pictures are a patchwork of fine silk satins and brocades. Thangkas were, and still are, painted with mineral colors and gold on a cotton canvas and then framed in silk brocade.
Assembly with horse hair

To start with, a stencil of the desired image is prepared by drawing a full-size image on paper and perforating the lines with a needle. This stencil is placed over the cloth that will form the background and is dabbed with a cloth laden with powdered white chalk to render the drawing visible. The individual figures assembled from silk brocade are stitched onto this background and outlined with silk-wrapped strands of Mongolian horse tail. The completed image is mounted on a plain white cotton backing before finally being framed in a brocade border.

Finished Thangka

The imagery in Tibetan thangka displays a blend of Chinese and Indian influences with characteristically Tibetan elements. The pictures on thangkas usually depict idealized figures which symbolize the expansive qualities of enlightened mind, such as wisdom, compassion, energy, and fearlessness. Some thangkas also illustrate scenes from the life of the Buddha, or occasionally even history. 

Apprentices at the norbulingka institute train to make appliqué thangkas. They become thoroughly familiar with the forms and proportions of Tibetan iconography before learning to mark, cut and sew pieces of silk brocade to assemble brilliant sacred images from them. Hats off to the patience that these guys have for creating such breathtaking pieces!

These beautiful artifacts are available at The Green Elephant by order, customized to your size requirements. If you think this is a must have for your home/office or facility, do give us a shout. We would love to hear from you. 

All images courtesy : Norbulingka Institute

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