hundreds of years, scroll paintings have decorated the walls
of monasteries, temples, and homes in East Asia. Though the
complex artistry upon them is pleasing to see, their makers
did not make them as decorative pieces only. They have a larger
meaning in the lives of those around them and some are known
to spiritually benefit anyone who comes near their spheres of
the Tibetan and Newari artstyles come from a time when these
cultures were at their peaks. Most of the older surviving
scroll paintings are reminders of a period when the rulers
and the public were concentrating upon the arts as offerings
to the deities. They transcend the material and bring back
memories of a people who thought that every incident displayed
the mood of the lords in heaven: earthquakes, fire glowing
in the kitchen, snowfall, floods, good harvests, sunshine.
names of the persons who made most of these religious paintings
are not recorded. It was perhaps a monk who secluded himself
from others for many months, or a yogi deep in conversation
with the devas who made some of them.
a disciple of the Buddha is given credit for the first serious
scroll painting in the thangka genre. In the sixth century
BC, it is said, a man Sharipura took exact measurements of
the Buddha's features and defined precise colors of his skin.
Since then, his standards have been maintained. In the latter
years, others students of dharma, following this example,
also measured their teachers so that no one would distort
their looks in the future.
measurements have survived until today and the good artist
meticulously copies each figure to the millimetre. He or she
is not at a liberty to change the details and usually reproduces
a mastercopy that has come down through the centuries. To
the worshippers, no variation from the assigned scale is acceptable.
Scroll paintings that do not follow pre-given directions are
useless for religious purposes.
significance of a thangka or paubha is also increased by the
finesse with which each detail is executed and the perfect
mixing of the colors helps determine a painting's value. The
life-force of deities, it is believed, is brought down to
earth by masterfully executed paintings. Since the secret
road to their power is like a mathematical formula, the geometry
of the painting is very important. Those paintings that are
created uncaringly, without painstaking study, are for décor
alone. The perfect pieces match the mastercopy exactly and
the goodness of the original piece, which has been proven
to strongly influence this world, is passed onto them.
is why the prices of thangkas range so widely, a pretty but
roughly done tourist-product may be obtained for about two
dollars while a gold-layered masterpiece costs well over 200
dollars. Since the paubha has yet to be fully commercialised,
it is costlier.
for the excellent artists with years of experience, the making
of a scroll painting is a great challenge. Since the shades
have to match, stone and vegetable dyes are used in orthodox
cases. These dyes bring their special problems. Some stones,
like lapis lazuli, are expensive. Others may be hard to obtain
or may be difficult to process so that an exact color is achieved.
Long hours, experimentation, patience, and expertise, allow
for the successful blending of these dyes.
the material used to paint on is sturdy cotton. However, among
the more affluent, silk is preferred as these survive longer-many
of the older paintings are made on silk cloth.
main focus is on a central image. Whether that of the Buddha,
Bhairab, or another deity, the face is most important. In
the Buddha, there is the expression of serenity so powerful
that even looking upon the painting calms the senses. On the
other hand, the ferocious expression of the Bhairab-the fangs,
the frowning brow, and the glaring eyes-instill fear upon
may be a theme to the painting too, for example in the "Wheel
of Life." In this painting, the wheel that goes about
the Buddha depicts the cycle of life as he envisioned it:
a child is born, it grows into a man or woman, ages, dies,
and is born again. Another theme depicts the Bhairab in the
act of creation: in this pose, he is sexually linked with
scroll paintings on sale in Kathmandu contain images of various
buddhas, taras, spirits, gods and goddesses. Mandalas, stupas,
dorjes, and other religious forces are also seen on them.
The religious representation is highly influenced by the Buddhist
religion. These works show a strong leaning towards Tantrism
as well. On the pieces on display at the Bhaktapur National
Museum, Hindu gods make appearances (the museum has some of
the most valuable paintings that exist in the world today.)