Shopping for Thangkas in Bhutan and Nepal
In her native Tibetan language, Her Eminence Jetsun Kushok Chimey Luding guided us to become the goddess at the ‘Uncommon White Tara Initiation’ taking place at the Ewan Choden Buddhist Center in California. With Lama Jay Goldberg translating for us, I envisioned the White Tara thangka painting I had acquired in Nepal a year earlier hanging on a wall in my home. I imagined my hair growing longer with black locks like hers, floating on a lotus flower above serene water as I sat in her position, and followed the rest of the initiation with a sense of tranquility.
My shopping for thangkas had begun in Bhutan, known for its exquisite textiles and traditional Buddhist arts. It began in the city of Thimphu, home of the Great Buddha Dordenma statue, one of the largest in the world at 51.5 meters tall. We first visited the Textile Museum, a must-see while in the city for its superb presentation of Bhutan’s cultural heritage in weaving and clothing production. Next we proceeded to the National Institute for Zorig Chusum. This place provides training in 13 arts, among them needlework, clay arts, blacksmithing, bronze casting and thangka painting. The classrooms were well organized with students absorbed in their projects.
We had been advised by Sherpa friends to visit the schools of art to make purchases, as the deals there were better than in the commercial shops. Shopping for thangkas in schools also gives the students and schools much-needed funding. Though the White Tara thangka I sought remained elusive, we were not disappointed, leaving with a gorgeous textile wall hanging of the Eight Auspicious Symbols and a cast bell and dorje.
Travelling afterwards to Nepal, we visited some shops in Kathmandu, but were reminded of the suggestion to visit schools before purchasing from a commercial enterprise. Bhaktapur, a UNESCO World Heritage site featuring the ancient arts of Nepal, was recommended to us. Several schools of thangka painting are in operation there, but we were searching for a particular one. After walking much of the site, including the old Pottery Square, we found the unassuming school. Nestled among several other venues, there were three floors of small rooms with various tables, paints and tools, and numerous thangkas in various stages of progress, stretched on loom-style easels. Workstations were fairly cramped, but the works emerging from the canvases were mesmerizing. An art professor myself, I knew this was going to be the place to find what I was looking for.
A school representative pulled several cases of works to show us. I wasn’t the only one seeking a painting, and my group had two requests for other icons, besides mine. As we viewed our options, mine revealed itself after sifting through a dozen or so paintings. Once I saw it, I was enchanted! My search was over, and this thangka painting has a place of honor in my home.
Article by Elizabeth Kenneday-Corathers.
Top image: tsemdo.thar
Inspired to visit Bhutan? Have a look at similar trips Royal Mountain Travel can offer in this tiny Himalayan kingdom: