We are less than a month away from the conference that we all have been waiting for since June. So, we believe that it is high time that the TEDxDharamshala community is introduced to the inspiring personalities that would grace our stage on the 12th of November. In a series of blogs starting from this one, we’ll be dedicating one post to each of our speakers. Stay tuned as we take you through the astounding lives of the speakers of TEDxDharamshala 2017.
The importance of an idea through its visualization goes back to the days of the early man. When the Homo sapien didn’t know how to put his thoughts to words, he drew. Over time, art has evolved as an expression of a higher understanding requiring a discipline of its own to fully appreciate the depth of a vision. Artists over the course of time have shaped societies with their art. So fundamental is an artist’s work in our lives that you won’t find a single household without some form of a painting hanging on the walls, whether it’s a replica or paintings of deities.
Art entered all spheres of the life that the humans have built. Even the most significant part of our identity wasn’t without an artform of its own: Religion. Paintings of deities are an integral part of the Indian household, often worshipped as the presence of gods themselves. Many cultures around the world have their indigenous and unique artforms to boast of. One such art form dedicated to visualizing the beliefs of a religious community is the Thangka Painting. This mystifying art is practiced by few and rarely known artists, one among whom is our speaker for TEDxDharamshala 2017, Ms. Sarika Singh.
A Thangka is not simply an aesthetic to grace your walls. It’s a journey, through visual expression, of a spiritual realization. The Thangka is essentially a Buddhist art form, meant as an aid to teaching the scriptures. From India, Buddhism and Buddhist Paintings reached Tibet in the 7th century AD where it developed and evolved for over 1000 years. In Tibet, these paintings became an integral part of the Tibetan culture and came to be known as Thangka paintings. Thangka meaning scroll. It combines the genius of the wielder of the paintbrush with the lessons in Buddhist scriptures. The result is a depiction that is spellbinding. The deities shown in thangka paintings are usually depictions of visions that appeared to great spiritual masters at moments of realization, which were then recorded and incorporated into Buddhist scripture.
As mystifying as these paintings are, the artists of these are just as intriguing. For starters, no thangka artist ever signs their work. Since this art form is dedicated to serving the purpose of higher understanding, artists aren’t allowed to put their name on them. This has led to there being no record of any particular artist who invented the art form. All the thangka artists of the old that are known to us were people who don’t owe their fame to the thangka. While you might find various types in the artform, no artist adds their individuality to their work. Just like a priest doesn’t add his interpretations to God’s message, the artists of the Thangka don’t add their singularity to this divine portrayal.
The Spiritual Artist
Even today, Thangka continues to be a male-dominated art form. So much so, that there is only one Indian female master Thangka artist, Ms. Sarika Singh. A graduate of Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University, Ms. Singh learned the art of Thangka painting at the Norbulingka Institute located in Sidhpur, a suburb of Dharamsala. Ms. Singh is also a teacher of the Thangka art, dedicated to passing on this sacred art to the next generation in all its glory. Ms. Singh has taken her work to the next level by completing her Masters in Buddhist studies and Tibetan, for a deeper understanding of the civilization where Thangka art is most prevalent and is now pursuing a Ph. D. from Central University, Dharamshala.
The practice of Thangka requires the same devotion as does being a monk. Only deep-rooted dedication to this discipline can help achieve the level where Ms. Sarika Singh is today. Thangka is certainly not for those who look at it as a career for it is a religion in its own right that requires the commitment of a priest. Together with her husband, Master Locho, Sarika has dedicated her life to preserving and spreading the knowledge of Thangka. ‘Center for Living Buddhist Art’ was established by Ms. Sarika Singh and her husband, Master Locho. The Center for Living Buddhist Art has a painting school that provides training in Thangka painting; a painting studio, where masterpiece paintings are created that are a result of great research; and a Museum that is in progress. The museum aims to depict the 2300 years journey of Buddhist Paintings.
Spreading the Message
Buddhism is not a religion. It’s a philosophy that guides us to the right path. Similarly, Thangka is not just an art form. It’s a road that guides you to lessons worth learning and incorporating in your life. You might not be an art scholar or enthusiast, but you will still find yourself turning your head in the direction of the Thangka. For it isn’t just a picture depicted on a canvas with some bright colors. It is a sacred awakening that not many are worthy of.
The artists of Thangka are best referred to as priests of this religious art form because they have dedicated their lives to preserving, promoting and practicing it. The digital age has provided all information at the distance of a click. Yet some intricacies of this mysterious art still remain with the ecclesiastics only.
While you will be visiting the city to attend the TEDxDharamshala conference, grab the opportunity to visit the best Thangka painting institutes and museums in the world. Before you do, Ms. Sarika Singh will walk you through the glorious history of the Thangka Art, while she takes the TEDxDharamshala stage to talk about “The Transformative Journey of Thangka Art”.