Tangka---Treasure of the Tibetan Culture

If you happen to be interested in the Tibetan culture and are planning the best Tibet tours at present, you must have searched so many relative posts online in order to know more about Tibet. Have you ever noted one kind of artwork named “Tangka”? It’s worth learning to help you explore Tibetan culture, especially Tibetan Buddhism better.

A Tibetan Tangka

What is Tangka?
Tangka is a type of scroll painting made of silk, satin or cloth, then framed and hung for worship by the Tibetan people. As a unique art in Tibetan culture, the contents of the painting refer to many fields including Tibetan history, politics, culture and social life, such as the Buddhist themes, historical events, folktales, and myths, etc. But the Tangka that you can see nowadays are mostly based on the scriptures of Tibetan Buddhism and Bon Religion.

Distinctive national features, strong religious overtones, unique art style, are the three biggest characteristics of Tangka. The traditional pigments used for Tangka are powder of precious mineral gems like Gold, Silver, Pearl, Agate, Coral, etc. mixed with Saffron or other natural plants. These nature materials assure the bright color and continuity for keeping more than hundreds of years. That’s why Tangka is regarded as the treasure of Chinese national painting art, as well as “the Encyclopedia of Tibetans”. In the old times, the Tibetan nobles even use the pearl to make Tangka, there is one in Trundruk Monastery as the priceless treasure. In 2006, Tangka was indexed in the list of China's Intangible Cultural Heritage.

A Tibetan Tangka with a Goddess

Regarding the origin of Tangka, there is no uniform conclusion in academia. Generally, there are four main views as follows:
1.     Proposed by Du Qi, an Italy scholar, Tangka was introduced to Tibet from India along with the pass of Buddhism. He pointed out that Tangka was originated from an ancient Indian religious cotton painting named “Bo Tuo”. He has two important arguments. One is the same basic cotton cloth painting material, the other is the same ratio of length to width.
2.     Chinese scholar Jisheng Xie has a contrary opinion that Tangka was influenced by the painting art of Han nationality. According to his book - “The Origin of Tangka”, during the Tang Dynasty, Tubo (the ancient name of Tibet) had close contact with Han nationality in both economy and culture. That’s when the Tibetan people started to learn scroll painting from Dunhuang, Gansu province.
3.     It’s based on the Tibetan legend story. The fifth Dalai Lama wrote a book, “Sakyamuni. Crystal Mirror”, which mentioned that the great 33rd. King of Tibet - Songtsen Gampo drew a picture of Goddess Lucky by using his nosebleed. Then the living Buddha framed this picture and hung it in the Monastery, there come the first Tangka in Tibet. This view was admitted in the Tibetan academia and believed by most Tibetan locals.
4.     The last view is that Tangka is originated from the Bon religion. The monks of Bon used to preach by carrying a portative cloth painting, which was the embryonic form of Tangka.


The normal size of Tangka is 750x500mm, while some bigger one is 3500x1100mm. The biggest Tangka in Tibet is the one with 500 square meters that kept in Drepung Monastery and can be seen once in a year on the first day of the Shoton Festival.

The huge Tangka opened on the hillside back of Drepung Monastery during the Shoton Festival