Tangkha painting is a traditional form of Tibetan Buddhist art. Learning this craft can take three years and is part of a monk’s education. Monks who have left monastic life can continue painting Tangkhas in craft centers like the one we visited in Bomdila.
In the workshop we met Tenzin, a former monk who once studied in Bomdila Monastery. He sat cross-legged near a window through which a shaft of pale sunlight fell on the canvas suspended before him. Happily he showed us the Tangkha he was working on, a picture of the eight auspicious signs of Tibetan Buddhism.
It would take him three days to complete it, Tenzin explained. The composition was one of many religious themes he had learned to paint according to a prescribed set of rules that govern colors, proportions and content.
And so we realized that, despite the aesthetic beauty of a Tangkha, the technique is not a means of creative expression for the artist. Rather, a Tangkha is intended to be a meditation aid that conveys a precise arrangement of images and symbols to the practitioner, thereby strengthening his or her focus and concentration.