A thangka is a complicated, composite three-dimensional object consisting of: a picture panel which is painted or embroidered, a textile mounting; and one or more of the following: a silk cover, leather corners, wooden dowels at the top and bottom and metal or wooden decorative knobs on the bottom dowel.  

There is a vast amount of iconographic information provided in thankas, some of it literally spelled out for you. If you look closely, many thangkas spell identification of figures and scenes in formal and delicately rendered scripts. In damaged sections of thankas where paint layers are missing, letters which indicate the master painter's choice of colour are sometimes visible. These letters were not intended to be part of the final composition and should not be confused with the former. But given the breadth and variety of the iconography of Indian and Tibetan Buddhism, it is virtually impossible to extrapolate the information that would be required to fill in figures that are missing or to complete the sacred objects that the figures hold in their hands. Where inpainting is required, the definition and clarification of artistic intent is a complex issue.   

On a deeper level thanka paintings can be seen as a visual expression of the highest state of consciousness, which is the ultimate goal of the Buddhist spiritual path. This is why a thanka is sometimes called a ‘roadmap to enlightenment’, as it shows you the way to this fully awakened state of enlightenment.


Lumbini Buddhist Art Gallery's main purpose is to share the Himalayan culture and wisdom around the world. Our home base is in Nepal, and all our products are made in Nepal. Lumbini has been supporting local artists and craftsmen in Nepal for nearly 15 years. At our exquisite new gallery and boutique in Berkeley, California, you will find the largest collection of master quality thanka paintings for purchase in North America, along with gold-plated and hand-crafted statues, singing bowls and more. Come visit us at 2177 Bancroft Way in Berkeley. We also accept commissions and custom orders upon request.

Our mission is to spread the message and teachings of un-corrupted Dharma preserved in the sacred Thanka paintings in the form of symbolism, iconography, symmetry, design, color and art.

The iconography of the Thangka is rich in information about the spiritual practice of Buddhists. A Thangka can help a meditator to learn and emulate the qualities of a particular deity or to visualize his or her path towards enlightenment. It can bring blessings on the household and serves as a constant reminder of the Buddha’s teachings of compassion, kindness, and wisdom. Thangkas of particular deities may be used for protection or to overcome obstacles.

The composition of a thangka, as with the majority of Buddhist art, 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. A skilled thangka artist will generally select from a variety of predesigned items to include in the composition, ranging from alms bowls and animals, to the shape, size, and angle of a figure's eyes, nose, and lips. The process seems very methodical, but often requires deep understanding of the symbolism involved to capture the spirit of it.