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Thangka's Subject Matter and Content (Figure)


Bon Thangka

Mandala (Altar City) Thangka



The Book Shadow of Thangka by Mr. Ye Xingsheng

Beijing Ye Xingsheng

This article is excerpted from the book "Thangka" written by Ye Xingsheng of "Chinese National Quintessence Art Reader" edited by Liao Ben, published by China Federation of Literary and Art Publishing House in January 2012. Mr. Ye Xingsheng is a well-known Tibetology researcher and collector. He has lived and worked in Tibet for a long time. He also studied Tibetan paintings with the 10th Panchen Lama painter and has in-depth research on Thangka. This article extracts some of the contents of Mr. Ye Xingsheng's "Thangka", mainly introduces the subject matter and content of Thangka, and hopes that readers will have a deep understanding of Thangka art.

Thangka, a special art mounted on brocade fabric, is widely popular in Tibet and has a history of thousands of years. It is the essence of Tibetan art. Thangka's theme content is extremely rich. The early thangka started from religious themes. Later, with the development of Buddhism, the emergence of various sects and the needs of society, thangka was given more missions. In addition to the dominant position of various Buddhist themes, there were also many historical figures, biographical stories, architectural monuments and fate-related blessings and disasters, sacrificial offerings and astronomical calendar calculations, and Tibetan medicine thangka. Its content involves religion, history, politics, humanities, science and technology, etc., thus forming a huge and complete Tibetan cultural system, and becoming an "encyclopedia" that uses religious theory and painting art to interpret everything in the world ". Its main contents are as follows:

  1. icon Thangka

This kind of Thangka is the Thangka with the theme of all kinds of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Buddha Mother, Arhat, Dharma King, Benzun, Dharma Protectors and all kinds of eminent monks and historical figures of the two sects of Tibetan Buddhism. There are two main forms of expression, one is the above-mentioned content as the main body, the holy image is in the central position, backed by a halo and an arched shrine, the bottom is a double lotus table and a vajra throne, and the bodhisattvas or disciples are on both sides. The wrath protector is backed by a red prajna wisdom flame, without a halo. The head of the arhat, the heavenly king and the patriarch are lined with halos, and they sit on luxurious cushions and cushions. Since they have not entered the status of the saint, there is no King Kong throne. The backlight is surrounded by auspicious clouds and flowers. Another common form is that in addition to the above content, all kinds of deities and Buddha families, monks, and dependents are arranged in a symmetrical and balanced manner around. The top is mostly all kinds of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, eminent monks, etc., while the bottom is mainly all kinds of dharma protectors, heavenly daughters, world gods and dependents, etc.

All kinds of statues of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and other gods in this kind of thangka must be drawn in strict accordance with the specifications of the Measurement Sutra of Buddha Statues, and the identification of the artifacts must be accurate and in place according to the ritual. On the other hand, historical figures pay attention to the portrayal of movements and postures, facial expressions and personality characteristics, and there is no fixed pattern. They are mainly designed and drawn according to historical records and under the guidance of the guru. The traditional method is full body portrait. After the Ming Dynasty, there were many portraits without background, such as Genghis Khan and Emperor Qianlong, drawn by court painters with realistic rendering techniques, and even the thangka of various eminent monks was expressed by using the light and dark painting method of Western painting.

This kind of thangka has a large number and is widely spread. It is the most important object for monasteries and folk to support and worship.

  2. Buddha Bensheng Story Thangka

This kind of thangka is to show the life story of all kinds of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, mainly Sakyamuni, which is divided into two kinds: single painting and group painting. The center of the single painting is mainly a statue of Buddha, and the surrounding groups show the Buddha's life and biographical stories. The other is a set of multiple sets, common with 12, 36, 108, etc. For example, Sakyamuni's original biography of 12 sets of thangkas, in order to show the 12 major achievements of Bodhisattva, white elephant reincarnation, rib descent, worldly honor, prince of divine power, secular monk, penance, Vajra bodhi, destruction of demons, achievement of positive consciousness, wide transfer of Falun, and light nirvana.

This kind of thangka is obviously different from the icon thangka. The theme of the icon thangka is all kinds of gods, Buddhas and eminent monks in the center. Although the Buddha statue on the Buddha's original thangka is still placed in the center of the picture with a large volume, the theme to be expressed is around the Buddha statue. The former composition is symmetrical, the style is rigorous, and the content of each group is relatively independent. The latter completely according to the development of the plot to carry out creative arrangement, combination and string into a whole.

  3. Mandala (Altar City) Thangka

This type of thangka represents the center of Tibetan Buddhist practice energy, symbolizes the Dharma of the present, and shows the Buddhist concept of the universe. In ancient India, the place where all living beings were converted to worship Buddhas and in-depth education was called mandala. Its Sanskrit is mandala, which is composed of manda, which means "heart and marrow", "essence" and la, which means "get. Thus the word mandala means "to acquire essence".

Mandala Thangka, with its rigorous structure, rich and dazzling colors, unique and exquisite skills, and extraordinary visual experience, harmoniously constitutes a complete Buddha's world. Various mandala cities are basically round and square in form (there are also square ones). The outer layer consists of a circular wall composed of Prajna Flame, Corpse Tolin, Vajra and a moat, which indicates the rejection of mortal dust and the suppression of evil spirits, and cannot enter the place where Vajra is stationed in tin. The inner city is square, with doors on all sides, ladders at the door, and towers standing with 16 guards, 4 people on each side. For the palace, within the King Kong. The top of the hall is round, with a small hall inside, where the master of King Kong's biography is lived. The Buddha statues and decorations in various mandala cities with different contents are also different. Each mandala center has its own statue and has become the name of various mandala thangkas.

The mandala thangka serves as the form of practice and the content of important ideas in the Tibetan secret, allowing practitioners to obtain the blessing of their own honor through practice, merging the "outer big universe" and the "inner small universe" into one.

  4. Biography Thangka

Biography Thangka mainly shows the life biographies of important historical real figures such as the great monk and the patriarch of the French king. It is characterized by design and creation according to the records in the scriptures and the teachings of the guru, and is lined with natural scenery and humanistic environment, thus reproducing the truth of history. In the form of the same is composed of one or more. For example, the Ming Dynasty thangka "Basiba Painting Biography" treasured in Sakya Monastery has a total of 25 axes, which shows the life story of Basiba, the fifth generation patriarch of Sakya, from birth to death. In composition, the central position is still reserved for Buddha or patriarch, and the surrounding is like a comic book with plots unfolded according to time, interspersed with natural scenery such as mountains, rocks, auspicious clouds, pavilions and pavilions and pavilions. This not only enhances the decorative effect of the picture, but also plays a role in the grouping and penetration of the story. Another feature is that Tibetan is commonly written at the bottom of each group of stories to briefly annotate the contents of the picture. The arrangement sequence is generally clockwise starting from the upper left to the upper right.

  5. religious ethics Thangka

This kind of thangka expresses the abstract concepts of religious doctrine, philosophical thought, moral concept and causal reincarnation in an image way. For example, the "Ten-Phase Self-Relation Chart", which symbolizes the highest doctrine and sacred thought of the Time Lunar Sect; the "World Model Chart", which expresses the concept of the universe; and the "Six-Dao Round", which teaches the mind and behavior of human beings. The biggest characteristic of this kind of thangka is that it is often not expressed directly, but in the form of symbols and symbolic techniques to clarify ideas, express teachings and reveal themes. For example, in the murals and thangkas, the "Ten Phases of Freedom", which is often called "Namjiu Wangdan", is formed by combining 7 Sanskrit letters and 3 graphic characters up and down, creating a symbol of the base, Tao and fruit in the highest doctrine of the time wheel, and the four colors of red, white, yellow and blue are interspersed with each other to represent the four elements of the universe, wind, fire, water and earth, as well as the sun and moon. At the same time, it represents the body, language and meaning of the gods entrusted to it. From the painting set, all the devices in the three worlds are in the ten-phase free figure. Its energy is huge and incomparable. On the other hand, the six-way cycle takes the Buddhist outlook on life, values and twelve causes and causes to represent the rotation of fate in the art form of wheel rotation, which never stops.

  6. Blessing and Thangka

This kind of thangka is mainly to ward off evil, pray for wealth, good weather, human and animal prosperity as the main purpose, and used for birth, old age, sickness and death, atonement and sacrifice etiquette secular thangka. For example, it is used to control evil spirits and avoid plague; it is used to attract wealth and treasure, and it is used to protect people's fate and transcend the undead. Among them, "Si Rui Tu" uses ancient Indian folk tales to teach respect for the old and love for the young, unity and harmony with elephants, monkeys, rabbits, partridges and a big tree. There is also the "Lu Ma Tu" used in the ceremony of offering sacrifices to the gods and praying for blessings. It is composed of auspicious patterns and characters such as the white horse in the center of the picture, the lion, the tiger, the Peng, the dragon and the seven treasures and eight rui. It is said that it was originally a musical instrument in the sacrificial ceremony of Bon religion, and then added new contents and secret mantras as a banner of fate to pray for blessings and good luck. Or placed outside the door, or hung in the sacred mountain lake, fluttering with the wind, so it is also called "wind horse".


Religious Ethics Thangka 116x77cm

This kind of thangka mainly comes from folk creation, which is carried out in the way of teachers, and creates different versions in different regions. For example, a thangka of the Qing Dynasty from Inner Mongolia, "Si Rui Tu", was exceptionally integrated with "Zodiac Tu" into one picture, and the traditional rabbit on the back of the Si Rui Tu monkey was changed to a dog with rabbit ears, and the traditional domestic cow was painted as a yak. At the same time, the expression method of animals in the "Wind Horse Painting" is used for reference at the top. On the left side, the lion and the dragon are drawn together, and on the right side, the phoenix and the elephant are drawn together, thus boldly reforming and innovating the traditional "Four Ruitu" thangka in the Wei-Tibet region (Wei-Tibet, formerly known as Tibet), creating a new form of expression.

  7. Architecture Sacred Thangka

This kind of thangka is mainly based on the famous palace castle, garden and temple buildings in history. Such as the Potala Palace, Lobrinka, Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, Yongbulakang, Sangye Temple, Sanggagutuo in Shannan, Tashilhunpo Temple in Shigatse, Sakya Temple, Leowuqi Temple in Qamdo, Qiangbalin Temple and other important temple buildings and pagodas of various sects in various regions. Can be a temple a shaft thangka, can also be a combination of several monasteries into one. One of the biggest features of this kind of thangka is the scattered perspective method, which breaks up the building complex and rearranges it in order to fully display the whole of the temple and highlight the key points without being limited by perspective and space. The second is to link the building with the construction process and celebrations. For example, the "Potala Palace" thangka shows the process of various craftsmen busy with water and land transportation and various craftsmen's construction, and even shows the details of boulders rolling down and injuring craftsmen. It also shows the grand scene of holding a dharma meeting after the completion of the palace and basking in the Buddha on the wall of the White House. On the picture showing the Sangye Temple, it is painted together with the celebration activities such as drama, song and dance and various arts vaudeville. Another example is the picture depicting Labrang Temple in Gansu Province, which shows the whole picture of the temple in a similar way to a line drawing. Moreover, vivid scenes of dancing gods, facing Buddha, even setting up tents, transporting mules and horses, and conducting business activities are painted around the courtyard square and outside the courtyard.

There is also a kind of "big handprints, big footprints", "eight pagodas" and other holy relics thangka, mostly made of gold and cinnabar, and written with Tibetan or Sanskrit mantra. This type of thangka is generally a sacred object that the master has passed on to his disciples or monasteries for spiritual practice, so it is rare and precious.

  8. Tibetan Medicine Calendar Thangka

Tibetan medicine thangka, called "door Tang" in Tibetan language, is a wall chart thangka with Tibetan medicine as its theme. The main content comes from the drawing of the Tibetan medicine masterpiece "Four Medical Classics" written by the founder of Tibetan medicine in the 8th century, and it began to appear in the form of wall charts as early as the 13th century. The most influential and still in use is a series of Tibetan medicine wall charts thangka drawn by the famous Mian Tang school painter Loza Tenzin Robu in the 17th century based on the Tibetan medicine theory and drug knowledge in the "Four Medical Classics · Blue Coloured Glaze" compiled by Diji Sangji Gyatso, with a complete set of 79 Thangka, which accurately and vividly visualized Tibetan medicine knowledge with clever conception and realistic techniques, with teaching function and aesthetic value, it has become a valuable teaching material for teaching Tibetan medicine comprehensively and systematically.

The other category is "Zitang", which refers to the astronomical calendar Tangka. This is an ancient discipline popular in Tibetan areas. Mainly by observing the operation of the sun, moon and stars to predict the changes of the four seasons, the Indian calendar of the earth wheel, water wheel, fire wheel, wind wheel to determine the year, month, day, time to analyze and calculate the rise and fall of all things. Later, it absorbed the Chinese calendar and the five elements of gold, wood, water, fire, and earth, and combined with the special natural environment of Tibet to enrich and improve. Since the 13th century, various Tibetan almanacs and thangka wall charts have been compiled to show the celestial phenomena, thus linking them with the production, life and folk customs of the Tibetan people.

  9. folk rap thangka

The origin of rap thangka is very early, which can be traced back to the ancient Indian "singing poets" and the ancient Tibetan culture of fables and riddles. It is said that it is also a way for Bon to spread its teachings. Its main contents can be divided into two categories: "Lama Mani" and "King Gesar Biography. Lama Mani Thangka is also known as "Mani painting". Because most rap artists are lamas, they constantly recite the six-character mantra of "Om, Well, Well, Beep, Mi Hum," in rap, so they call this rap "Lama Mani" and rap artists "Maniba" or "Rochemba". The content mainly includes all kinds of folk tales, biographical literature and eight Tibetan operas, etc., in order to publicize religious concepts such as ethics and karma through vivid forms of expression, and to pray for the people to drive disasters.


Folk Rap Thangka, 157x106cm

The "King Gesar Biography" thangka, also known as "Zhong Tang", is mainly based on the Tibetan hero Gesar, who is widely celebrated among the people. Gesar's legendary life and extraordinary achievements come from the great creation of the people. It is said that Gesar spirits wander around and enter the body of the prophet in the form of dreams and illusions, and then spread in the form of singing without end. Therefore, artists often imitate the image of Gesar when rapping "Zhong Tang", wearing a square war helmet, armor, bow and arrow on the waist, two small flags on the top of the helmet, and a curly beard of Gesar style on his face, thus reproducing Gesar's heroic posture.

There is a big difference between rap thangka and the religious thangka supported in the Buddhist temple: first, the content takes folk tales, myths and legends as the main body, with strong folk literature color and secular life sentiment. The second is that the mode of communication is mainly carried out in the course of swimming, which can be carried out in lively forms such as rap, performance, and interaction in the village or in public. The third is that there is no fixed pattern and restraint in painting, so that the artist's imagination and creativity can be fully utilized, and it has become a unique form of thangka art.

10. Bon Thangka

Bon thangka is an important part of thangka art. Because Buddhism and Bon Religion (one of the oldest religions in the world, originated in Central Asia, with a history of more than 18000 years) have been in the process of long-term confrontation, they have formed a very consistent external form and internal A phenomenon of essential difference. Although the history of Bon religion is much earlier than Tibetan Buddhism, it has gone from the Middle Ages in Tibet to a weak position, so the Bon Thangka handed down from ancient times is extremely rare, so we can only explore its characteristics and laws from the modern Bon Thangka, and compare the differences between the two.

As such a special kind of art, the drawing of thangka is also extremely complicated and strict. Every drawing of thangka must be carried out in accordance with the rituals of the scriptures and the requirements of the guru. After thousands of years of continuous improvement, a complete set of technological procedures has been formed: 1. Pre-painting ceremony; 2. Making canvas; 3. Composition drafting; 4. Coloring and dyeing; 5. Proline setting; 6. Laying gold and drawing silver; 7. Opening eyes; 8. Sewing and mounting light. The exquisite thangka produced in this way has gone beyond the single role of religious worship, and has begun to meet the various needs of the secular public. It has become a unique artwork with religious functions as the main function and other functions as the supplement. It has many functions, such as solemn ashram, historical record, spiritual education, spiritual observation, spiritual cultivation, cultivation, secret method, knowledge dissemination and so on.





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