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Home >> Popular Painting Styles >> Buddhist Paintings

Buddhist Paintings

Buddhism is a religion of spirituality and meditation, and nothing reflects that very fact than Budhhist Paintings. Be it the exquisite Thangkas or the murals of the monasteries in Sri Lanka, the paintings abound in symbolism and spirituality.

History of Buddhist Paintings

The earliest specimen of Buddhist Paintings can be found in the Indian subcontinent. Gautama Buddha, was after all born here. Buddhist Paintings eveolved by contact with other cultures as Buddhism spread throughout Asia and the world. Early Buddhist paintings were characterised by the Indian aniconic tradition which avoids direct representation of the human figure. Around the 1st century CE an iconic period emerged surviving till present that represents the Buddha in human form.

One of most significant Buddhist Paintings of Modern times are the Tibetan Buddhist Paintings.

Thangka Paintings

Thangka Paintings are composite three-dimensional products of art, which derive their themes from Buddhist philosophies. They are essentially religious objects and are of great significance to the Tibetan Buddhists. These beautifully crafted banners are generally hung on monastery walls; they are also an integral part of Buddhist religious processions.



The Tibetan word “Thang” means a flat surface, which when suffixed with “ka”(painting) means “a flat painting” or a “painting on a flat surface”. These paintings are generally done on flat surfaces but they offer the option of being rolled up when not being displayed, a la scroll paintings.

Most Thangka Paintings have the three-dimensional Mandala as the centerpiece. A geometrical representation of the universe, the Mandalas, depicts the enlightened minds and souls of revered Buddhist monks.

Tibetan Sand Painting or Mandala Sand Painting

This Painting style is a part of Tibetan Tantric Art tradition. The Tibetans call it dul-tson-kyil-khor, which literally means "mandala of colored powders." Millions of grains of sand are painstakingly laid into place on a flat platform over a period of days or weeks. The heartbreaking part of this ritual is that after days of determined hard work and perseverance the very monks who work on these paintings have to destroy them.

The beginning of mandala sand painting is an auspicious occasion which is marked by a ceremonial ritual. In this opening ceremony the lamas, or Tibetan priests, gather in front of the painting the site and call forth the supreme power of goodness. This is done by the means of chanting, music, and mantra recitation.

The first day of the process sees the outlining of the painting on a wooden board. In the consequent days the outlines are layered with different colored sands. The sand is poured from a metal funnel called chak-pur. This funnel is an important part of the tradition too. The monks involved in the apintings hold a funnel in their hand and run a metal rod on its surface. The vibrations caused by the metal rod makes the sand flow like water from the funnel mouth.

These paintings follow the prescribed Mandala motifs. A Mandala is a symbolic geometric pattern, which is a metaphysical or symbolical representation of the cosmos, a microcosm of the universe from the human perspective. The center of the Mandala can be used as the focal point of meditation. In fact the complex but symmetric web of structures around the center draws one’s eyes towards the focal point.

Other Buddhist Paintings

Apart from the Thangkas and Sand Paintings, astrological charts, illuminated manuscripts, images of hands and feet of famous teachers, block paintings, murals and frescoes, Parmas (wood block painted pressed prints) and scroll paintings are other forms of Buddhist paintings.

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