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Himalayan Art Paintings

Himalayan Art Paintings

There are many forms of Himalayan art. Although we acknowledge sculpture, textile, and jewelry as art, we focus primarily on paintings. This article reviews Himalayan art from Nepal, Tibet, Kashmir, Bhutan, India, and China. In general, the paintings were created as educational guides for monks, Buddhists, and Hindus.


Thangkas are embroidered or drawn paintings of deities that tell a story. Most of the stories relate to the deity’s ascent to enlightenment or an obstacle they had to overcome in their life. The stories are used as teaching tools to explore the different paths to enlightenment. They also serve as historical documents describing the life of Buddha, or important Lamas.

Thangkas often serve as a centerpiece at a formal event like a ritual or ceremony. They are also used as tokens for people to send prayers to god, give offerings, and make requests. When they are used as a teaching tool, students are sometimes asked to visualize themselves as the deity and internalize their qualities.

Thangka paintings date back to 13th century AD, but archived letters and journal entries from china indicate they were present before the 5th century AD.


Mandalas are geometrical patterns that represent the universe and enlightenment. In general, they are squares inside circles. Every detail and its placement have a specific meaning. They are painted to function as a diagram or map, where a person starts at the outermost border and attempts to make it to the center and achieve enlightenment.

There are more than 30 types of mandalas. The sand mandala is the most important type of mandala for initiation ceremonies or empowerment rituals. Painted mandalas are the second most important, followed by letters, and then plain types.

Parts of a Mandala

Each mandala is unique with differences ranging from subtle to extreme. The most common type of mandala has 4 outer circles. Each has its own color, spirit and meaning. The white wall symbolizes faith. Yellow symbolizes faith. The red wall symbolizes effort. Green symbolizes memory. And finally the blue wall symbolizes wisdom.

After entering the 4 walls, you come to 4 gates. The gates are in the shape of a “T”. They represent the 4 immeasurable thoughts, which are joy, compassion, love, and mental calmness.

Inside the gates are more gates and at the very center is normally a lotus flower, which represents the 5 psychophysical components of humans. They are, in essence, the 5 senses.

And if the mandala is detailed enough, there will be a person or figure or letter, which is normally written in Tibetan.

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