Historically, Thangkas were used as teaching aids. A lama or teacher would travel giving talks on Buddha’s life and teachings. He would carry with him painted scrolls to convey spiritually significant events, aspects of different deities, or Buddhist concepts. Made strictly according to the scriptures, Thangkas are considered a visual representation of a spiritual reality.
A thangka is often a visual representation of a particular deity. The central figure in the composition, the deity is shown strictly according to the guidelines of religious texts. The secondary figures or surrounding areas also have symbolic relevance.
Born Prince Siddhartha Gautama of Lumbini, Nepal, the Buddha Shakyamuni renounced his princely life. After rigorous ascetic practice, he gained insight into the nature of existence. At this moment he invoked the earth as witness, as indicated by the gesture of his right hand.
Buddhist art celebrates this supreme moment.
Thangka of Buddha Shakyamuni with his two principal disciples
Tara is one of the most popular female deities in Tibetan Buddhism and is worshipped in a majority of the Buddhist world. The Thangka of the White Tara, also called "the Mother of all Buddhas is the perfect embodiment of graceful power, wisdom, and purity.
As with Tara expressions in the other five colors, the vibrations of white color expresses the specific energy of White Tara. Pure, truthful, powerful, transcending all limitations - these are just some of the attributes of color white that describe the energy of White Tara.
The White Tara is also called "the Goddess of Seven Eyes" because, in addition to the third eye, she is also depicted with eyes in her hands and feet. This represents White Tara seeing all human suffering, as well as encourages the devotee to develop vigilance and sensitivity to the energy in and around them.
Thangka of White Tara, known as Dolma in Tibetan
The Green Tara was believed to be incarnated as the Nepali princess. She is considered by some to be the original Tara and is the female consort of Amoghasiddhi , one of the “self-born” Buddhas. The mantra of Green Tara is : "Om tare tuttare ture svaha".
A symbol of universal compassion, the Green Tara is worshipped for her ability to overcome difficult situations, giving protection against dangers and obstacles.
Thangka of Green Tara
The thangka paintings of the Life of Buddha narrates the most relevant episodes of the life of Gautam Buddha known as the “Twelve Great Deeds of the Buddha’s Life”.
These artworks are not meant to be just an illustration of the main events of the historical Buddha, but they are considered to be a visual representation of several philosophical aspects of the Buddhism, especially the progress towards the achievement of spiritual enlightenment.
According to the documents written down more than two hundred years after Buddha’s death, his mother, Maya Devi, a Nepali queen, one day dreamed that she would become pregnant from a white elephant touching her right side with its trunk. In Hindu mythology, elephants are seen as strong and fertile beings. And white is seen as a sign of purity and immaculacy. According to the legend, Queen Maya Devi was pregnant for 10 months. When she was aware that her time was near, she followed an old custom and went on a journey to her parents’ home in Devdaha, Nepal. However, before reaching her parents’ home, she gave birth to her son in a garden in Lumbini, in current day Nepal.
Queen Maya Devi grabbed the branch of a tree and Buddha was born by coming out of her right side. Queen Maya Devi died seven days later. There have been discussions among scholars if the historical birth of Buddha may have been by caesarian section. Gautama Siddhartha grew up behind high court walls, well protected from the ugliness of the real world of average people. He could have enjoyed the luxurious life of a rich prince. But he was not happy. To distract him his father wanted the prince to marry. A tournament was organized as a test who was the strongest and best marriage candidate for Princess Gopi. In one contest, Buddha’s rivals killed a white elephant. However, Buddha, repelled by the senseless killing, tossed the elephant over the palace wall and brought it back to life.
One day the prince left the palace and realized what real life was. He saw poverty, illness, the fate of aging and he saw a burial of a deceased person. Buddha recognized that there was suffering outside the luxury of the palace.
Prince Siddhartha, in the meantime 29 years old, married and father of one son, decided to leave the palace to find an answer why there is suffering in the world and how to free the world from it. Secretly at night he left the palace on horseback and accompanied by a servant. Once he was far away from the palace, he sent the servant with the horseback. Buddha took the seat in front of a stupa and cut his long hair off and dressed like a monk to begin the life of a simple student under different guru teachers.
For six years the Buddha practiced asceticism under different guru masters. But after six years he and his friends who accompanied him were close to death due to extreme asceticism. But Buddha recognized that this did not take him anywhere closer to understand the mechanisms of this world. After 6 years of fruitless ascetism, the Buddha decided to eat again. This is what Buddhists call the “middle way”, avoiding extremes to both sides.
Buddha began to meditate under a large tree. After several weeks of meditation Buddha finally found enlightenment by understanding the causes of suffering and how to end suffering.
Thangka of Buddha’s Life Story