Monthly Archives: January 2014

Thangka: Nepali Traditional Painting

History of Nepalese Paintings

Paintings from Nepal were primarily found in illustrations of Holy Scriptures from the eleventh century AD. They were painted on different materials such as leaves, wood, and the wooden covers of the scriptures. It is said that the first paintings to enter the country were those inspired from these Holy Scriptures and painted by artists in India during early eleventh century. In comparison, Buddhist manuscripts were more elaborately decorated than the Hindu manuscripts. Most of these early scriptures were written on palm leaves, a plant that is found on the plains and coastal region of the Indian subcontinent, further indicating the possibility that later paintings in Nepal were inspired by those of what is now India. The paintings found in the manuscript may be used to describe the theme or for the sole purpose of decoration. They usually depict shrines, temples, animals, and deities and their surroundings. These old paintings found in both Buddhist and Brahman manuscripts do not hold a wide variety of colors or shades as traditional dyes were used derived from raw materials. Some dyes were more commonly used in some areas as the raw materials were more easily found. The early scroll paintings of Nepal existed in different forms as patas, torananas, paubhas, and thangkas. They were mostly held in private possession and were only displayed to the public during festivals. The unique thing about most of these Nepalese paintings is that the date, title, the owner, and sometimes the artist of the painting would also be mentioned.

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On a recent trip to Tibet we stopped at the renowned cave where Milarepa meditated. Once you cross the Nepal-China friendship bridge at Kodari, and are on the highway to Lhasa, one comes across a small river valley with lush green agriculture at the bottom, with rows of greenhouses. Amidst a series of monasteries and a small village, lies the cave where the beloved singing saint and mystic Milarepa meditated. Historians tell us that Milarepa lived from AD 1052-1135 and is admired for his songs which remain popular in Tibet. It is said that Milarepa was a charismatic and eccentric figure and hence his life, various events, places he visited, teachings and travels are captured and recreated by artists in numerous scrolls, paintings and metal craft. A walk through Patan, Bauddha Stupa area or the lanes in Thamel reveals many artists who have mastered them and continue to recreate them for those who revere Milarepa.

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