Dharmapala Thangka Centre – Preserving a Sacred Tradition

The artists at the Dharmapala Thangka Centre located in the busy city of Kathmandu, Nepal, have been creating high-quality, authentic thangkas for more than twenty years. Closely adhering to traditional thangka painting customs and supervised by lamas of the Nyingma order, these artists are widely recognized as being masters of this ancient, sacred tradition.

A thangka is an embroidered or painted banner which Buddhists hang in a monastery or family altar. Lamas in ceremonial processions also carry it. The word “thangka” is taken from the Tibetan words “than” which means flat, and “ka” meaning painting. So a thangka is literally a painting done on a flat surface.

Thangkas are often done on fabric that can be rolled up when not required for display. Thangkas originally gained popularity among traveling monks because they could easily be rolled up and transported. Thangkas also served as teaching tools, depicting the life of the Buddha, as well as describing historical events concerning influential lamas, other deities and Bodhisattva.

While many regard thangkas as merely beautiful, colorful wall hangings, to Buddhists, these paintings, which are believed to be an expression of the divine, have religious significance. For example, the Wheel of Life is a popular subject and is a representation of the Abhidharma teachings or “Art of Enlightenment”. Devotional images, such as thangkas, serve as a centerpiece during rituals and are often used as a medium through which devotees offer prayers of thanks or make requests. Religious art is also frequently used as a meditation tool to assist the believer further down the path to enlightenment.

At the Dharmapala Thangka Centre, the religious significance of the thangkas produced there is taken seriously. Great Master Painter, Karsang Lama, is a third generation thangka painter, having been taught as a child by his grandfather in the monastery of his home village. He moved to Kathmandu when he was 12 years old and began to paint professionally, managing to support his family by means of his art. Karsang Lama opened his own studio at the age of 22 and was instrumental in establishing the first fair labor practices for thangka painters, by shortening their workday, paying fair wages and establishing an education program. The Dharmapala Thangka Centre remains the home of many of the finest traditional artists.

Karsang Lama also played a large role in establishing three orphanages in the Kathmandu Valley, housing and educating more than 100 orphans at a time. These orphanages receive a percentage of the proceeds from the sale of each painting.

The exquisite paintings from the Dharmapala Thangka Centre have been featured in exhibitions around the world, bearing testimony to the skill of these talented artists from Nepal.