The 10,000-square-meter thangka was made in five parts before it was combined into a single piece. Apprentices work on a segment depicting Damjangarwanagpo, the protective deity of Tibetan Buddhism’s Kagyupa sect. Photos by Daqiong / China Daily
Migmar Tsering took nine years to finish his massive Tibetan work, Daqiong and Hao Nan report.
The Tibetan New Year of Losar celebrated on Feb 11 was “the happiest one” in the past 10 years for famed thangka master Migmar Tsering.
“My eight apprentices and I finally finished a huge thangka artwork before New Year’s Eve after more than nine years of painstaking effort,” says Migmar Tsering, who like all Tibetans is known by his four-syllable name.
The embroidered and painted masterpiece made in his home village of Chimakha some 140 km from Lhasa might be the largest of its kind in the world. It covers more than 10,000 square meters.
The 120-meter-long, 85-meter-wide artwork depicts 19 enlightened monks, the Buddha himself and two of his disciples, as well as many pagodas and 12 animals.
“Each earlobe of the Buddha is designed to be about 2 meters in length and the eyes of the monks are embroidered with silk to become more expressive and lifelike,” Migmar Tsering says.
It is made in five parts that were spread out on the ground in his workshop before they were assembled into one piece.
This time Migmar Tsering did not follow the tradition of anonymity and sewed his name on the thangka in both Chinese and Tibetan.
He says the thangka will be donated to the Yangpajan Temple in the suburbs of Lhasa for display after it is blessed by lamas there.
“Buddhists and tourists from around the world will have a better chance to pay respect to the Buddha and pray for world peace,” he says.
“Tibet has achieved rapid social and economic growth during the past decades and local people’s lives have also greatly improved,” Migmar Tsering says.
Tanzen Drolma, 18, is in her fourth year of apprenticeship under Migmar Tsering. She said she has a special fondness for portraying eyes because she wants to depict the Buddha’s vision “full of supreme mercy”.
Yet “conflicts, wars and natural disasters are unceasingly happening in other countries and regions, which are in my belief caused by the disharmony among countries and regions as well as between human beings and nature,” he says.
“Buddha teaches people how to create a harmonious life, increase tolerance with each other and show respect to nature. And I hope this painting can convey that spirit,” he adds.
Before it is handed over to the temple, the huge thangka will make its debut in April on the slopes of a gentle hill in the mountains near Chimakha village.
Traditional Tibetan thangka art is an important teaching tool depicting the life of the Buddha, bodhisattvas, influential lamas and other Buddhists.
Together they are seen as an encyclopedia of Tibetan culture and heritage with themes covering many fields including history, politics, medicine and social customs.
No one is sure when the practice began. A common understanding is that the art became distinctive when Buddhism was introduced to Tibet at the peak of the Tubo Kingdom some 1,300 years ago.
A thangka can perform several different functions when created properly. But in general – and perhaps most importantly – the religious art is used as a meditation tool to aid in the search for enlightenment.
Mineral pigments are mainly used in thangka paintings. The most expensive colors are red and are made from coral powder and blue from turquoise.
The composition of a thangka is highly geometric. Arms, legs, eyes, nostrils, ears and various ritual implements are all laid out on a systematic grid of angles and intersecting lines.
The process seems methodical, but it requires artists to have a deep understanding of the symbolism required to capture the spirit of Buddhism, experts say.
“I tore up countless drafts and spent nearly a year and a half finishing the composition and design of the huge thangka,” Migmar Tsering says.
Migmar Tsering, 38, is a sixth-generation thangka artist.
The 38-year-old artist is the sixth-generation inheritor of thangka embroidery. He heard many stories about the traditional art from his mother when he was a little boy.
But his passion for the family heritage did not begin until he was 15 years old.
Migmar Tsering’s first job was at a construction site in Lhasa city. He then turned into a painter of pictures on the walls of various buildings.
After saving some money, he again changed his profession, buying and selling second-hand goods for several years, when he realized the value of thangka embroidery and started learning from his uncle in 1990.
His solid painting skills as well as attention to detail have made his work different from others.
In 2001, Migmar Tsering opened his own workshop and took in eight apprentices including a youngster from Yunnan province.
Although Tibet University based in Lhasa offers a thangka program, most painters still follow the traditional master-apprentice practice.
The government has created better conditions for thangka artists, he says.
In 2005, the central and regional governments invested more than 40 million yuan ($6.4 million) in Tibet to preserve its intangible cultural assets.
In 2008, thangka embroidery made the list of the State Intangible Cultural Heritages.
“As an inheritor, I hope the art of thangka can blossom and I will dedicate myself to carrying it forward,” Migmar Tsering says.