Key Symbols of the Thangka A thangka painting was traditionally a portable fabric scroll, kept unframed, and intended to be used either for personal meditation or in order to instruct other individuals in Buddhist teachings.

Key Symbols of the Thangka

A thangka painting was traditionally a portable fabric scroll, kept unframed, and intended to be used either for personal meditation or in order to instruct other individuals in Buddhist teachings. Thangkas use a combination of depictions of deities or influential leaders, alongside symbols and very precise geometry in order to help aid the viewer on his or her path to enlightenment. Thangkas can also serve to retell a historical event involving a well-known lama, or depict a myth of a deity like a Buddha or bodhisattva. It is believed that if painted correctly and beautifully, these works could house the spirits of their deities, and so a very strict set of rules and patterns is taught and enforced. The deities must always be depicted with the exact same proportions, the color palette is restricted, and the stances of the figures are heavily curated. The monks who produce these works must spend at least six years studying the art form before the painting can be deemed acceptable to Buddhist standards.

Some of the key religious symbols that can be seen in thangka paintings are lotus flowers, banners, knots, fish, umbrellas, vases, conch shells, and the dharma wheel. These motifs are referred to as the 8 auspicious symbols in Tibetan Buddhism:

  • The lotus flower, which is usually pink or light red, symbolizes enlightenment and spiritual purity as the flower emerges from the mud. The lotus flower usually is seen with 8 or 16 petals, and can have different colors to represent different motifs. For example, the white lotus is specific to Buddha Sikhin, but lotuses can also appear in yellow or gold.
  • The victory banner, which usually appears as a four-colored cylindrical design with a central pole, represents the triumph of Buddha over ignorance.
  • Similarly, a white parasol or umbrella represents the ability of Buddha to triumph over everything, and a conch shell also represents victory over enemies.
  • The knot, also known as the “endless knot” or “glorious knot”, represents longevity and harmony.
  • When fish appear in thangka paintings, thy are usually seen in pairs, symbolizing the harmony and peace that arrives as a person approaches enlightenment.
  • The treasure vase, which is usually gold and never runs dry, represents abundance.
  • The final symbol of the thangka is the dharma wheel. The dharma wheel always has three components: rim, hub, and spokes. These three pieces represent integrity, wisdom, and attentiveness. The dharma wheel also always features eight spokes representing the eightfold Noble Path towards enlightenment. The wheel can also often be embellished with jewels, ribbons, and sometimes a lotus base.

SOURCE: invaluable.com