Thangka painting is an ancient Tibetan Buddhist art form, which has been practised in Tibet for much more than one thousand years. Thangka, simply is the Tibetan word for painting. In the paintings of this Tibetan Buddhist art form the many and various deities and venerable teachers such as the historical Lord Buddha Shakyamuni are shown. These images inspire through their beauty, but also, a painted deity is a visual support for those practising meditation.
The origins of Thangka painting go back to Lord Buddha Shakyamuni and stretch even further beyond into the past. Lord Buddha lived about 2600 years ago in India, where He taught the Holy Dharma to a large following and also instructed and inspired many artists. As Lord Buddha‘s Teachings flourished in India beyond His lifetime, His Teachings spread to neighbouring countries like Tibet, too.
To establish Buddhism in Tibet, the innovative Tibetan king Songsten Gampo married the Chinese princess Kongjo in early seventh century. She brought scriptures of LordBuddha’s Teachings, Buddhist sculptures and paintings, and also introduced a Chinese style of painting with the artists, who came with her from China. This early stage of Tibetan Thangka painting has been referred to as the old Gadri style.
Another style of Tibetan Thangka painting, Menri, was introduced in Tibet from Nepal in the 9th century. And these are the two main traditions with their varying schools, found in Tibetan Thangka painting. Gadri has been established in the Eastern part of Tibet, whereas Menri is in Central and Western part of the country.
In the year 1500, the Gadri style experienced a renaissance due to the influence of the artist Namka Tashi, who was linked to the Great Saint Mikyo Dorje, the 8th Karmapa. Further significant contributions came through the artists Cho Tashi and then Kasho Karma Tashi. These three artists established what has been known as the Karma Gadri style of Tibetan Thangka painting, which is still true today.