Tibetan Thangka or Thanka painting is an essential component of Tibetan Buddhist culture & religious practice. The tradition of thangka or thanka painting is considered to be a major form of Tibetan art. Thangka or Thanka painting is the ancient art form of Tibetan scroll painting that primarily depicts sacred Buddhist images. Tibetans are historically nomadic and found it easy to transport their precious artwork in scroll form and they used them for teaching and for mediation purposes. Thangka, a Tibetan word meaning “painted scroll”, is an art of painting on silk or cloth. It is an integral part of Tibetan painting art, and has a long history. Thangka is closely related to fresco in terms of painting art. “Thang” means “show” in Tibetan; therefore, thangka paintings are created to show what are painted in frescoes. Because most of the tibetan thanka or thangka painters come from ordinary people, the thangka paintings are strongly tinged with Tibetan folk culture.
In Tibetan culture Thangka or Thanka painting is a painted banner which is hung in a monastery or a family altar and carried by lamas in ceremonial processions. In Tibetan the word 'than' means flat and the suffix 'ka' stands for painting. The Thangka is thus a kind of painting done on flat surface but which can be rolled up when not required for display. The content of most Tibetan Thangka or Thanka is mainly the images of Buddhas, deities,or reflection of life stories of eminent monks and folk customs. The structure of Tibet Thangka is precise, balanced, plumpy and changeful.
The main theme of Tibetan thangka or thanka is religion, such as portraits of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, scenes of saints expounding the sutras, temples, religious personages, and religious stories. Such pictures make up more than 80 percent. Even thangka or thanka s depicting Tibetan history and science have a strong religious flavor. In general, a Tibetan thanka or thangka paintings depicting a religious theme is divided into three parts: upper, middle and lower, representing heaven, earth and the underworld, respectively. The middle part shows Buddhas, such as Sakyamuni; the upper part shows Bodhisattvas; and the lower part has pictures of monks and guardian deities.