Buddhist Crafts and Culture: Snapshots from Gangtok

Explore Buddhist crafts and culture in Gangtok, Sikkim

Dastkari Haat Samiti

Dastkari Haat Samiti

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

The capital of the north-eastern state of Sikkim in India, Gangtok, is a mountain town in the eastern Himalayas. Established as a Buddhist pilgrimage site in the nineteenth century, it continues to be an important religious centre. Buddhism in Sikkim is not an austere, monastic order distanced from the common people. It has absorbed and accommodated existing local beliefs and practices. Along with the pantheon of Buddhist deities for example, is Kanchendzonga, the guardian deity of Sikkim and the third highest peak in the world. 

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

Buddhist monks and nuns move freely between their monasteries and their families. While not the majority religion, Buddhism is an important faith in Sikkim. From the ubiquitous prayer flags, to small shrines and murals in different localities, to houses in traditional style – Buddhism and the crafts it supported, are a part of people’s everyday lives. 

A cloudy afternoon in Gangtok (2018-03)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Nestled on a hillside with peaks surrounding it, is Gangtok, capital of Sikkim in the eastern Himalayas.

Thangka Painting of Sikkim: Religion in everyday life (2018-03)Dastkari Haat Samiti

It is a common sight to see prayer flags fluttering in the breeze.

Thangka Painting of Sikkim: Elements of traditional art are incorporated in people's lives (2018-03)Dastkari Haat Samiti

A banner with a Buddhist auspicious sign decorates a house front.

Thangka Painting of Sikkim: Art and religion are a part of people's everyday life (2018-03)Dastkari Haat Samiti

A wall mural at a street side shrine.

Thangka Painting of Sikkim: Elements of traditional art are incorporated in people's lives (2018-03)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The eight auspicious symbols adorn a curtain in a doorway.

The eight auspicious symbols adorn a curtain in a doorway.

Thangka Painting of Sikkim: A regular morning on MG Road (2018-03)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Lamas sitting with tourists and visitors on a regular morning in downtown Gangtok.

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

The last monarch of Sikkim, Chogyal Palden Thondup Namgyal, recognized the significance of the arts and crafts as part of the Sikkimese identity. He established a Technical Institute for Training and Production of traditional arts and crafts in 1957. After the monarchy was abrogated and Sikkim became India’s 22nd state in 1975, this went on to become the Directorate of Handicrafts and Handloom. Today, the institute has several branches, and is the premier training centre for the traditional arts of Sikkim. 

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

Thangka painting and other crafts of Sikkim

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

Thangka Painting is a four-year full time course. Seen in the photograph, are students discussing a painting assignment.

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

Students of thangka painting are taught forms and proportions as prescribed in the scriptures. They begin with the head of the Buddha.

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

The forms and compositions become increasingly complex.

The forms and compositions become increasingly complex.

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

Initial drawing is in pencil or charcoal, with colours being introduced once the students are able to make compositions.

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

Wood carving is another craft taught at the Directorate.

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

The iconography is similar to that in thangka painting. Besides chisels of various sizes, locally devised tools are used, such as this one made of a wire fixed in a curve of bent cane.

Thangka Painting of Sikkim: In the wood carving classroom (2018-03)Dastkari Haat Samiti

A student at work, creating a wood carving full of Buddhist iconography.

Thangka Painting of Sikkim: In the wood carving classroom (2018-03)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Students also learn traditional painting on wood.

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

This is used in furniture and ritual decorations.

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

Mask making is another course offered at the institute. Other courses include traditional weaving, carpet making and stitching.

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

Tsuklakhang Trust

The Royal Chapel and Monastery of the Chogyals, the erstwhile royal family of Sikkim, is managed by the Tsuklakhang Trust. In keeping with the Chogyal’s vision, the estate itself is a showcase of Sikkimese Buddhist art and culture.

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

The Trust runs a school for lamas according to the tenets of Sikkimese Nyingma Buddhism.

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

Approach to the Palace.

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

The child lamas go through a ten-year course of education.

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

A young lama at the monastery.

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

Tsuklakhang is built in the style of Tibetan temple architecture. Its white washed stone walls with mud plaster are decorated in traditional style.

Shown here is a window in the chapel building.

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

Detail of painted window frame.

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

The richly decorated entrance to the temple.

The murals inside the temple are originals from the 1920s, when the temple was built. Painted by the best artists from Lhasa and Shigatse in Tibet, they were restored in 2011.

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

A protector deity at the temple's entrance.

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

A close up of a finely-executed mural.

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

Wrathful deities at the entrance to the temple.

Traditional architectural detailing with painting on wood can be seen below the mural.

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

Read more about the tradition of Thangka Paintings here :

- Buddhist Art in Sikkim
- Sikkimese Thangkas: Religious Art

The process of Thangka Painting
Credits: Story

Text: Aloka Hiremath
Photography: Subinoy Das
Artisans: Lharipa Nima Tshering, associates and students at Directorate of Handicrafts and Handloom, Nim Rinchen, Sangye
Ground Facilitation: Sonam Gyaltsen, Aloka Hiremath
Curation: Ruchira Verma

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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