Home > Nepali Thanka

Nepali  Thanka

(source: https://himalayahandicrafts.com/product/om-mandala-thangka/)


Thangka (Nepali: थंका; Tibetan: ང་བྱ་སྟོན་) is a traditional art from the Himalayan region of Nepal, Bhutan, India, Tibet, Sikkim, and Assam. Thangka is primarily painted on cloth and used as decorative wall hangings, ritual objects, and religious offerings. It is associated with Buddhism, Hinduism, folk religion, animistic traditions, and shamanism. Traditional Buddhist paintings are often referred to as “thangkas”, there are many different types of Thangkas. Some are simple drawings while others are intricate and detailed. One thing about Thangka is that it is not only used for religious purposes. People use them for celebrations, anniversaries, weddings, and housewarming ceremonies and as a charm that brings good luck.


Thangka is a traditional Nepali art form that depicts Buddhist deities. Thangkas are usually painted on cloth using natural dyes. They can vary from simple designs to elaborate paintings depicting stories from the Nepali culture and religions. Nepalese people are known for their exquisite handicrafts, particularly thankas woven from cotton and silk. In Hinduism, thanka represents the path of spiritual liberation leading to enlightenment. The painting consists of several layers of delicate colored threads, and each layer symbolizes a religious event.


Traditional Thankas in Nepal


Thanka (त्या) are traditional paintings from Nepal that have been used since ancient times to decorate temples, homes, palaces, and other sacred places. They are drawn using natural dyes including indigo, safflower, onion skin, turmeric, and others. The designs vary according to the region of Nepal which is home to diverse communities & cultures and the materials used. In some cases, they are created to protect against evil spirits with the appropriate ‘mantras’ or designs of deities.


Thangka painting is based on traditional Tibetan art forms. It is done using colored threads, which are then stitched onto a piece of cloth. The technique is similar to needlepoint. The artist uses a variety of tools, including needles, spools, and dyes.

(source: https://mandalas.life/2018/types-of-thangka-found-in-nepal/)


The traditional thanka art form of Nepal was developed from the ancient stone engraving techniques that were used to create Buddhist scriptures. These images are created through the use of natural dyes including indigo, safflower, and madder, and were later transferred to paper and clothes. Thanks to the efforts of talented artisans, the traditional craft of thankas flourished and eventually evolved into the Nepalese visual arts. Today, thankas remain popular throughout the country and are often used to decorate temples and shrines.


The Nepalese traditional thankas can be seen in almost each and every household in Nepal. They consist of bright colors and have intricate designs and patterns. The traditional thankas are not only restricted to the wall of homes; they are also used to decorate other products including furniture, curtains, and even vehicles. Even though the traditional thankas are hand-painted, they last longer due to their rich color and texture.


Types of Thankas


In general, there are four types of thankas in Nepal. They can be listed as Embroidered Thankas, Lacquered Thankas, Precious Bead Thankas, and Applique Thankas. While all types of thankas follow the same basics, they tend to have different attributes and different design styles.


Embroidered Thankas


Embroidered thankas are a form of Buddhist art that originated in Tibet. They have been around since ancient times and were originally used in religious ceremonies. Today they are still used in many Tibetan monasteries across the country.



Embroidered Buddhist thankas have been used for centuries as a form of meditation and blessing, especially for the Buddhist community. Embroidery thankas are with motifs like flowers, birds, animals, geometric patterns, and religious symbols to add value to the art. 1. Embroidered Thangkas are created using traditional methods while using natural dyes. They can take months to complete, and they have been around for centuries. These sacred objects are usually meant to represent the soul’s journey from this world toward enlightenment. Many artists use symbolism to convey these ideas to their audience.


Generally, Embroidered thankas are done in silk thread on cloth using natural dyes. These paintings are also used to depict stories from Buddhist and Hindu scriptures. Each embroidered piece takes several hours to complete, depending on the complexity of the design. Some designs can take days, weeks, or months. The artisans use special tools and techniques to create each pattern. Even the use of different natured elements like gold, silver, and jewels can be used to give finesse to this fine art.


Lacquered Thankas


Lacquered thangkas are arts that have been painted using lacquer. The term ‘Lacquered’ refers to a technique where thankas are coated with layers of lacquer over them. This coating protects the thankas from corrosion and oxidation. Lacquering is commonly used in various industries including construction, automotive, and furniture manufacturing. These thankas were covered with multiple layers of lacquer to enhance their beauty and protect them from dust and dirt.

(source: https://enlightenmentthangka.com/products/buddha-shakyamuni-thangka-prints)


The durable and well-polished lacquered thankas are usually painted with sacred symbols and images depicting Hindu gods, goddesses, and other deities. There are many different styles of lacquered thankas and they can vary greatly in size and complexity. Most are meant to be displayed as wall hangings but some artists create them as gifts for others. Some people collect them as antiques while others keep them as art pieces.


Well, mostly these lacquered arts were traditionally used in religious ceremonies where they would cover deities or other holy figures. Today, these paintings can be seen hanging in homes across the Nepali community and are  also often used for meditation purposes


Precious Bead Thankas


Precious bead thangkas are a type of Tibetan Buddhist art that has been around for centuries. They are usually made from glass, precious metals, and semi-precious stones like turquoise and lapis lazuli. These types of beads have been used to create jewelry items, but they can also be used to make religious offerings. The purpose of making these paintings was to provide a visual record of prayers and other spiritual teachings. There are many different styles of thangka paintings. Some are done in black ink while others use colored pigments.

(source: https://www.dharmashop.com/products/blue-jewel-mandala-thangka)


These types of thankas are used today to create religious images and can be found in temples around the world. It is believed that these precious bead thankas bring good luck to charm and have high regard due to the embedment of various precious jewels to make the thankas extraordinary. The bead in the precious bead thankas is used to symbolize the deities. They represent the different elements like earth, water, fire, air, and space. In Buddhism, they are used to represent the five elements. For example, gold represents space. silver represents air, and so on with different kinds of precious elements.


Similar to other types of thankas, most often, the precious bead thankas contain mandalas, geometric patterns that represent the universe. A lot of times, they include religious symbols like Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Other than that, some may depict stories from the Buddha’s life and others may show his teachings, especially in Tibetian culture.

Applique Thankas

Applique thangka is a form of Tibetan art that is used to decorate clothing, household items, and religious objects. The word applique word means “to cover”, so the applique thangka covers a cloth background with intricate designs and patterns. This type of thanka design has been around for centuries, but its popularity has grown over time. Today, appliqué thangka can be seen everywhere from Buddhist temples to homes for its religious values.

(source: https://www.tibetan-buddhist-art.com/applique-thangkas/)


There are two types of appliqué thangkas: flat and three-dimensional. Flat appliqué thangkas are usually painted with bright colors. They are often used to decorate clothing and other household items. Three-dimensional applique thangka is typically carved into intricate designs. These are commonly used to adorn religious objects like statues, stupas, and mandalas.


Historically, the applique thangkas were used to decorate religious objects like statues, monasteries, temples, and even buildings. These thangkas are intricate works of art, often depicting scenes from the Buddha’s life. Appliques form are also used to decorate clothes, clothing, and objects. It involves stitching intricate designs onto fabric using needle and thread in order to create beautiful patterns

History of Thankas in Nepal

The word thangka means cloth in Sanskrit. These beautiful pieces of artwork are produced from silk thread embroidery and have been used for thousands of years due to their durability and longevity. This form of art is not only beautiful but also has spiritual significance. There are many different types of thangkas that vary in size, shape, color, and design. In Buddhism, thankas are specifically created for meditation purposes. They are usually decorated with Buddhist symbols, mandalas, and deities.

(source: https://fulltimeexplorer.com/thangka-painting-souvenir-nepal/)


The history of thangka goes back to ancient times when they were used as religious icons in Buddhism. In the early days of Buddhism, these paintings were done using natural dyes on cloths that were woven from cotton. With time, people started creating their own designs and colors, and the tradition of making them was passed down through generations.


Today, thangkas are created in many different styles, materials, and sizes. Some artists specialize in painting intricate mandala-style images onto silk, while others focus on realistic depictions of deities. Many artists use traditional techniques to create their masterpieces, but some have taken modern approaches to create unique works of art. Thangkas were originally drawn using ink and then colored using natural dyes. Today, they are usually printed using modern technology and come in different sizes, shapes, materials, and colors. Besides their peaceful and meditation attributes they can be also kept as decoration pieces at home or office.


Thangkas are still produced in Nepal today, primarily in the Rolwaling region of the mid-western Himalayas. They are often used for prayer and meditation purposes, although they have become increasingly popular among tourists looking for souvenirs.


Different Categories of Thanka


  1. Mandala Thankas


The word Mandala means circle or sphere in Sanskrit. These are circular paintings that have been used since ancient times for meditation purposes. In Buddhism, they are associated with enlightenment and represent the universe. They can be seen at many Buddhist temples throughout Asia.

(source: https://mandalas.life/get/mantra-mandala-thangka-painting/)


A mandala is a circle that represents the universe, the spiritual world, and the human mind. In Buddhism, they are often used as meditation tools to help attain enlightenment. They can also represent the cosmos, the evolution of life, and the interplay between opposites. There are many styles of mandala thangka painting. One style may differ from another not just due to the kind of paint used, but also in the way the design is executed. Each artist has his or her own unique style.


  1. Tathagatas Buddha Thankas


The Tathagatas are the Buddha’s body, speech, mind, qualities, activities, and attributes. They are the Buddha’s original nature that he has attained enlightenment. In Buddhism, they are considered to be the ultimate reality. The tathagata buddhas are the spiritual teachers of Mahayana Buddhism.

(source: https://namobuddhathanka.com/product/panchabuddha-thangka-painting/)


They can be regarded as the perfected beings who have achieved enlightenment while alive. The tathagatas buddha thankas feature the life lessons and teaching of those buddhas in the beautiful artform. There are many types of tathagatas buddha thankas that portray different aspects, qualities, activities, and speech of the tathagatas buddhas.

  1. Avoliteshvara Thankas

Avalokiteshvara is a form of Buddhist meditation practiced in Nepal. It is similar to Vipassana meditation but focuses on the breath rather than the mind. They are usually depicted as being seated cross-legged with their hands resting on their knees. Their heads are covered with a turban and they wear a necklace. The art known as the embodiment of the virtue of compassion became the most popular diet among Buddhists during the sixth century.

(source: https://traditionalartofnepal.com/shop/deities/chenrezing-four-armed-avalokitesvara/)


This thanka based on the popular deity of Buddhism represents the earthly manifestation of the self-born Buddha, Amitabha. The deity is portrayed in this thanka who is believed to be the protector of the world who guards the existence between the time period of departure of the historical buddha, Gautam Buddha, and the expected appearance of the future Buddha, Maitreya according to the Buddhist myth.  As the significance of the deity in the Buddhism religion, the Avoliteshvara thanka is also one of the sacred art in the Nepali religion that tells the story of both has been and to be in the spiritual context.


  1. Dharma-Protecting Deities Thankas


Like the name suggest dharma protecting dietines thanka represents the different deities in the Nepali religion who are the protector of humans and their principles.  The dharma protecting deities are a series of protective deities that protect us from harm. They are known as the dharmapatakas (protectors of dharma) because they safeguard our sacred teachings, which we call dharma. In Tibetan Buddhism these deities are often depicted wearing a hat called a khatvanga, which has 108 small bells attached to it. These bells represent the 108 mantras that comprise the Buddhist mantra syllabus.



As Ayurveda suggests that we have 108 ‘marma’ also known as vital points of life force in our body, all the mantras in the Nepali religion are cited 108 times equivalent to all those vital points. Each chant of the mantra represents the human journey from material form towards the spiritual realm, making this thanka art one of the highlights among other collections. In Buddhism, the dharma-protecting deities thanks feature different spiritual forms like Bodhisattva Tara, Avalokitesvara, Maheshwari, Yamantaka, Ksitigarbha, Vajrapani, and many more. These series of thangkas are designed to invoke protection deities for your home, family, and business. They can be hung over the doorways or placed at entrances to protect against negative energies.


  1. Wrathful Deities Thankas


The wrathful deities are the gods that have been depicted in Buddhist art as being extremely angry, violent, or destructive. These deities are often shown holding weapons or instruments of destruction, such as swords, tridents, spears, clubs, axes, and knives. They are usually portrayed as having red skin, bulging eyes, fangs, long hair, large tusks, and/or horns. The wrathful deities are powerful gods who have been known to use their great powers to protect Buddha’s teachings from being corrupted by evil forces. These deities can appear in any form they wish and generally do not need to consume food or drink. They are often depicted holding weapons (spears, swords, tridents, bows, arrows, etc.), meditating, or engaged in other activities that would seem to indicate that they are engaged in some sort of battle. Wrathful deities are usually associated with fierce nature and are often portrayed as having large bodies and long arms, with their facial features sometimes resembling those of tigers or other predatory beasts.

(source: https://www.thangka-mandala.com/thangkas/wrathful-deities/)


The wrathful deities thangka is the most sacred of all the Tantric Buddhist images. They are used in meditation practices, and when they are created, they have been said to possess many positive qualities, including protection from evil forces and the ability to clear obstacles that may hinder spiritual progress. In addition, these deities represent the ten directions, the five elements, and the four states of consciousness. These thangkas are usually painted using natural pigments, but today, artists use synthetic dyes to create beautiful works of art. Most thangkas depict the wrathful deities (or guardians) that protect against negative influences.

Translate »