Thangka is the name for the scroll-banners seen hanging in every temple, monastery and family shrine in Tibet. They carry painted or embroidered pictures inside a broad, coloured border and they can range in size from the page of a book to the facade of an entire building. The picture is usually made on paper or cotton canvas which is protected by a thin dust-cover; the mounting is of colorful silk. A heavy wooden stick at the base allows a thangka to be rolled up like a scroll for storage or transportation, or to hang securely without flapping.
Thangkas first appeared in Tibet around the 10th century AD. The scroll form seems to have been borrowed from China; the style of painting probably came from Nepal and Kashmir. Apprentice thangka painters studied under experienced lamas and their works were consecrated before they could be hung.
Thangkas were widely used in monastery schools as teaching tools because of their convenient movability. Common folk hung them in homes as protection against evil spirits. At the highest level of religious practice, mystics in a state of meditation would become one with the deity portrayed.
Thangkas can be simple in design or very complicated. They can deal with a great number of subjects of which a few are Tibetan theology, astrology, pharmacology, and lives of Buddhas, saints and deities, and mandalas.
Mandalas are graphic, geometric representations of the cosmos "psychocosmograms" symbolising the order and harmony achieved by a truly enlightened mind. They have great power, being seen as concentrated areas where the forces of the universe are gathered. ("Manda" means "essence",while "La" means "container".)
The design is symmetrical, based on circles and squares, with a central focal point. In Tantric Buddhism, where the mandala is used to support meditation, adepts seek to absorb its power. Sometimes a mandala takes the form of an elaborate, four,gated city a "palace of knowledge" -- which the practitioner mentally enters and approaches the centre of in order to achieve a state of mystical unity with the Buddha.
Although not created primarily to please the eye, mandalas are often works of art with great stylistic elegance and beauty. They are most frequently displayed on thangkas but are also seen on the walls of temples and monasteries. A few monasteries, such as Sakya and Tashilhunpo, still create magnificent mandalas made of coloured sand.