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Thangkas is the name for the scroll-banners seen hanging in every temple, monastery and family shrine in Tibet. They carry painted or embroidered pictures inside a broad, colored border and can range in size from the page of a book to the facade of an entire building. The pictures is usually made on paper or cotton canvas protected by a thin dust-cover, the mounting is of colorful silk. A heavy wooden stick at the base allows a thangka to be rolled up like a scroll for storage or transportation, or to hang securely without flapping.

Thangkas first appeared in Tibet around the tenth century AD. The scroll form seems to have been borrowed from China; the style of painting probably came from Nepal and Kashmir. Apprentice thangka painters studied under experienced lamas, and their works were consecrated before they could be hung.

Thangkas were widely used in monastery schools as teaching tools because of their convenient movability. Common folk hung them in homes as protection against evil spirits. At the highest level of religious practice, mystics in a state of meditation would become one with the deity portrayed.

Thangkas can be simple in design or very complicated. They can deal with a great number of subjects, of which a few are Tibetan theology, astrology, pharmacology, the lives of Buddha, saints and deities, and mandalas.


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