A thangka is a religious practice that is much more than just an aesthetic object. Originally painted by lamas or Buddhist clergy, thangkas were later made by lay painters. They were rigorously trained in this traditional art form and worked under the supervision of lamas. Buddhism is widely practiced in the northeastern Indian state of Sikkim. The thangka is an important component of Sikkimese Buddhism and is painted in the traditional Tibetan style. A thangka can depict a deity, a mandala (a geometric figure with symbolic meaning that is also used as a meditation aid), or a spiritually significant event in the life of a Buddhist master.
Depiction of Guru Rinpoche Thangka/Padmasambhava
The most popular figure depicted in Thangka paintings is Guru Rinpoche Thangka, otherwise known as the Padmasambhava. The reason for his popularity in this art form is not just attributed to his enlightenment as a Buddha, but also, to his role as one of the most exceptional sages of the Vajrayana Buddhist world. His birth was more spiritual than it was human. The Buddha of Infinite Light's rays of blessing touched a lotus in the Milk Ocean southwest of Bodhgaya. That was twelve years after the Buddha's Mahaparinirvana. As a result, Guru Rinpoche was miraculously born in that lotus. He was born without human parents, he was born out of a lotus. Because of this, he is known as Padmasambhava, the ‘Lotus Born.’
Guru Rinpoche's Thangkas, like those of other Tibetan deities, are meticulously crafted. It is iconographically right and extremely detailed. Guru Rinpoche Thangka is an excellent thangka. The detailed art lining and goldwork are noticeably visible. Padmasambhava is typically depicted in Thangkas wherein he is seated in the center with a crossed leg carrying a vajra in his right hand and a skull-cup brimming with nectar in his left hand. It houses the vase of immortality, which is also brimming with the nectar of deathless wisdom. This iconography represents his status as a manifestation of Amitabha. Amitabha is portrayed as Padmasambhava's divine exemplar, and most Thangka paintings place him directly above him in the upper register. He is also dressed in unusual brocade robes and Tibetan-style robes. The Sun and Crescent Moon on his tantric cap represent his Yogic achievements. The eagle feather on top represents his Great Perfection. Dzogchen is the crowning jewel of his Tantric repertoire. This Thangka is created using Buddhist text and iconography in order to present all of the accurate attributes for the practice of meditation.
Some Guru Rinpoche Thangkas show him seated in between his consorts, while others show all eight manifestations of him. Guru's eight manifestations are reflective of his ability to appear in response to various needs and demands. In fact, they are known in Tibetan as Guru Tsen Gye, the Guru's eight "names," with each manifestation demonstrating a different principle.
Guru Padmasambhava is depicted in the center of a deep blue lake with his two prime consorts, Yeshe Tsogyal and Mandarava in some Thangkas. Princess Mandarava is Indian, and Queen Yeshe Tsogyal is Tibetan. His eight major manifestations surround him. On top is the primordial Buddha, Samantabadra.
Depiction of Tsongkhapa
Another common figure depicted in Thangka paintings is Tsongkhapa, the great Tibetan scholar and reformer of Tibetan Buddhism. The name, ‘Tsongkhapa’ means the ‘Man from the Onion Valley.’ He was an eminent spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism. He was also responsible for the formation of one of the dominant sects in the tradition, the Gelug school. He is typically depicted with a pointed hat, as seen in this thangka. He appears to be sitting atop a lotus throne. The lotus throne is covered in pink blooms, which is the color of lotus reserved for the most powerful deities. He's dressed in three monk's robes: blue, green, and orange. Lotus stems are held in his hands, each flower raised to the level of his ears. The lotus on his right side also carries the flaming sword of Manjushri, which represents the destruction of ignorance and duality. The flame represents the tool used to combat the darkness caused by such duality. Meanwhile, to his left is another lotus carrying a terrified scripture, the Perfect of Wisdom, which has 8,000 lines, as an indication of his wisdom.
Q1. What was Guru Rinpoche Thangka/Padmasambhava known for?
He is well known as the founder of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. He is also famous for his tantric powers and undisputable compassion for living beings. He was one of the three scholars who were responsible for the spread of Buddhism in Tibet.
Q2. Where does Tsongkhapa draw inspiration for his Buddhist philosophies?
Tsongkhapa’s philosophy of truth is built on the beliefs of the Indian Madhyamaka philosophers such as Nagarjuna, Buddhapalita and Chandrakirti. He also draws inspiration from the Dharmakirti tradition.
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