Buddhist Art in Sikkim

Explore Buddhist art in Sikkim through thangka painting

Dastkari Haat Samiti

Thangka Painting of Sikkim: Buddhist art (2018-03)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Buddhist art is best known through the thangka

Originating in 7th century Nepal, the tradition of thangka painting spread across the region, developing into different schools of painting. Other art and craft traditions developed in parallel.

Much of the imagery and stylistic influences from the painting left their mark in areas such as architecture and wood craft. Monasteries became the patrons of many of these traditions.

Thangka Painting of Sikkim (2018-03)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The northern Indian state of Sikkim, which till 1975 was a Buddhist monarchy, had a close cultural relationship with Tibet. While Buddhism in Sikkim absorbed local customs and beliefs, it continued to follow the tenets of Vajrayana Buddhism as practiced in Tibet.

Thangka painting, as well as the other artistic traditions associated with it, are visible everywhere in Sikkim. These span various media and applications. They are seen in two-dimensional wall murals as well as three-dimensional wood craft, mask making, and architecture.

Thangka Painting of Sikkim: Shakyamuni Buddha (1910) by Rinzing LharipaDastkari Haat Samiti

The thangka may be considered the culmination of Buddhist art. Based on strict iconographic rules according to religious scriptures, it is both an object of worship as well as an aid for meditation.

A thangka usually depicts a deity, a religious concept, or a spiritually significant event.

Thangka Painting of Sikkim: Tsuklakhang Chapel and Monastery (2018-03)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The art of the thangkas is also seen adapted to different applications across different media. On a grand scale, it is seen in Buddhist monasteries in the form of wall murals.

Thangka Painting of Sikkim: Tsuklakhang Chapel and Monastery (2018-03)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The painting is done directly on earthen walls, the surface of which has been given a smooth coat of gypsum or white clay.

Shown here is a section of a Wheel of Life mural, seen at the entrance of most monasteries.

The imagery in Buddhist murals is the same as that of thangka art, but on a larger scale. Compared to the limited canvas of a thangka, a wall offers the artist the space to develop a theme. Large murals, especially those seen in monasteries, often have a narrative flow.

Thangka Painting of Sikkim: Namgyal Institute of Tibetology (2018-03)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Discover art at the center of Tibetan studies

A secular application of the same art can be seen in the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology in Gangtok, Sikkim. An important center of Tibetan studies, the institute is designed in traditional Tibetan style.

Thangka Painting of Sikkim: Buddhist art (2018-03)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The Institute also offers examples of the extension of the art form into architectural detailing. Seen here is an ornamented pillar.

Wood and plaster detailing between walls and ceilings is of the same design vocabulary as that seen in thangkas.

Thangka Painting of Sikkim: Buddhist art (2018-03)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Get to know the crafts...

Murals

The imagery of the murals is similar to that seen in religious application.

Thangka Painting of Sikkim: Handicrafts of Sikkim (2018-03)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Wood carving

Wood carving is a craft form in its own right, used for ritual objects, furniture, and architecture.

Thangka Painting of Sikkim: Handicrafts of Sikkim (2018-03)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Carved objects often have religious symbolic significance.

Thangka Painting of Sikkim: Handicrafts of Sikkim (2018-03)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Their painting follows the same color codes as seen in two-dimensional applications of Buddhist art.

Thangka Painting of Sikkim: Painted wood carving (Contemporary)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Mask making

Another three-dimensional art form is that of mask making. Masks are used for religious festivals, and are an essential component for many ritual dances.

Crafts Maps of India - Sikkim - 2 (1993-2010) by Hishey BhutiaDastkari Haat Samiti

Crafts maps

Besides its use across various media, Buddhist art and craft forms it supports, are beginning to enter new areas of application. In Gangtok, shops selling commercial thangkas now offer thangkas to Hindu deities.

Seen here is a secular application of thangka art: a map of Sikkim made by Hishey Bhutia, a thangka painter.

Crafts Maps of India - Sikkim (1993-2010) by Hishey BhutiaDastkari Haat Samiti

Made in two sections, this work combines text and visual imagery in a map of Sikkim and the various craft forms of the state.

Thangka Painting of Sikkim: Work in progress on a household shrine (2018-03)Dastkari Haat Samiti

And meet an artist, Sangye, in his workplace...

Thangka Painting of Sikkim: Buddhist art (2018-03)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Trained as a thangka painter, the artist has adapted his skills to be able to execute all the painting requirements of a project such as this one.

In Sikkim, every Buddhist household has its own shrine. A place of worship and meditation, this is where the family idols and thangkas are kept.

Seen here is a new shrine not yet completed. The faces of the deities are kept covered till the high priest or lama consecrates them.

All the wall painting has been done by him.

He has also painted the wooden shrine and decorations.

Thangka Painting of Sikkim: Buddhist art (2018-03)Dastkari Haat Samiti

While the idols are made on order according to drawings given, their painting is done by artists such as Sangye. Seen here is an idol of Lord Buddha.

Thangka Painting of Sikkim: Buddhist art (2018-03)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The artist at work on a traditional wooden table that will be used in the prayer room. He is using the raised technique, which he will further color with gold paint.

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