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Life of Thangka or Thanka Painters in Nepal

 

Life Of Thangka or Thanka Painters In Nepal

Thangka painter in Nepal is considered both prestigious as well as beneficial to one's karma, since the artist works mainly with religious subjects. The art of painting is especially important when it comes to religious role or wall paintings. To become a master thangka or thanka painter it takes many years of disciplined training and constant practice under the supervision and training of an experienced master thangka or thanka painter. Now a days due to commercialisation in thangka paintings in Nepal. We can find lots of people involved in thangka or thanka paintings. Most of the thangka or thanka painters are Tamangs, Lamas and Tibetan refugees

Many from the Tamang community are believed to have immigrated to Nepal from Tibet as soldiers and political refugees. In return for their services, they received land on the hill flanks to the North and, unfortunately, much of the land they were given does not have high yield. Their lack of quality farmland, their virtual absence in local trade and commerce, along with, as Nepal later developed, their virtual absence in the nation's bureaucracy, educational and professional institutions has left a majority of them facing a hard life in the hills.

For extra income, both women and men migrated to earn a decent living during off-seasons on the farm and worked as laborers and also as rug weavers during the heyday of the Tibetan rug industry. Traditional painting was a practice that had developed in Nepal had been little known to the Tamang hill communities. Given their situation, they turned to the production of thangka paintings as a means of income. As tourism increased and art admirers came to Nepal's doorstep, thangka painting inevitably became commercialized. Tamangs now form the majority of thangka painters working inside Nepal. Their work provides what used to be one of Nepal's most sacred religious arts to gawking foreigners and the few that still revere it for its true purpose as a religious icon influencing their moral way of life.

The Tibetan thangka differs from that of the Newari paubha, which represents images of Buddhist and Hindu gods and goddesses like Ganesh, while the Tibetan style traditionally represents solely Buddhist deities. There are cases where each style has used icons from each religion but different colors, facial and bodily features are used usually depending on whether they were made for a Tibetan or Nepalese buyer. Tibetan thangkas are the most desired style on the Nepalese and world markets, partially due to their affordability cause by the underprivileged Tamangs; it is said that an paubha should be gold layered, whereas, many thangkas are not. They can fetch prices ranging from a few hundred rupees into the tens of thousands.' Despite the actual sale price, the artist will receive little in the form of payment for his or her work. A Tamang artist shares his story:

His deep, piercing eyes guide a steady hand, the trademarks of this artist. These trademarks, in turn, stand for the skill he has practiced and mastered. He has long held dear the tradition of thangka painting for its religious significance and as a means of sustaining the lives of his loved ones. His workers turn to him for knowledge of thangkas as a step towards their eventually mastery of the art. To him, time has yielded an understanding of the methods and the lifestyle required for the painting of thangkas. He must turn to his belief in his work and what it means to him for the inspiration to continue the creation of his art.

In search of a better life, he descended from his mountain village to the Kathmandu Valley. His hope was to paint thangkas, his sole mean of income, in order to provide his family with food and his children with a good education. He now lives in a rented home from where he works with employees six. The average artist can produce around four thangkas a month. His workers are paid in a pooling of the earnings from their completed work.

The production costs of a standard sized thangka run up to four thousand to four thousand five hundred rupees, amounting to more than half of what he can sell it for to a middleman. Once a painting has been produced he then goes to Thamel in downtown Kathmandu, where clients may be found in the business districts. After labor and material costs are subtracted from the money received from selling his paintings, there is little profit that remains for him to support a healthy lifestyle. The local market for Thangkas is practically non-existent as their prices run too high.

A middleman is necessary for a sale as he does not have the proper sale contacts inside or outside Nepal, nor does he have the means to acquire any. He cannot afford a telephone, nonetheless, a shop location. Seven thousand to seven thousand five hundred rupees is the usual wholesale price which the middleman pays him for a piece of his work. Those artists descending from their hill communities are often forced to sell their paintings for a mere four hundred rupees so the middleman frequently comes out of a sale with a profit in the thousands. Labor and material expenses can produce higher prices but the profit is none the greater.

His life is a constant struggle to support his family and his workers. It is easy to lose sight of the thangka's identity as a spiritual entity rather than a financial one in such a situation. At one time, the family had a sponsor for one of their daughter's schooling but that is no longer available as the sponsor withdrew from aiding the young girl's situation. Both their daughters study at a local missionary school named St. Mary's where their son has now joined them after being sent to India to receive a monk's education. Having decided after two months that their son would receive a better education back home, they then determined he should return to Nepal and so disguised him as a Tibetan monk complete with identity card to cross the border.

He makes trips back to his hill community in order to provide friends and family back home with support. The people that he left behind when he came to Kathmandu to earn a better living still live the even more impoverished life that he once lived. For the time being, life is a struggle but one that he can manage unlike the many who remained in the hills.

There are joys to his life. His family brings him much happiness and yearly festivals unite the Tamang community in food and drink. The Tibetan New Year, Lhosar is the most highly celebrated festival of the year. It is a time for new beginnings and traditional food like Tibetan corn or millet pudding and roti,a crispy wheat bread to be eaten with chilies. Of course, festive drinks flow to warm the spirits of those who have worked so hard. Drinks like jaar, rice beer, and tchang, rice wine, supply much entertainment and vital traditions to the festival itself. Thanks to the enormous diversity of people found in Nepal, they can also take advantage of many other religious and national festivals throughout the year.

In a perfect world, money would not be an issue and he could be proud in knowing that the thangkas he has painted are exported to China, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, Europe and many other regions all over the world. He could find spiritual peace in producing the images that relate the stories and figures of the Buddhist religion. His family and workers would be happy that he could provide them with a focus and could create such wonders as thangka paintings that flow from his mind, down his arm and through his fingers, to find their way in amazing life back to the ancient tradition of the thangka.

 
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30" x 22" Shakyamuni Buddha Thangka
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32 x 22.5 Padmasambhava Thangka Painting
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