The Great Thangka of Tibetan Art and Culture

A short introduction to the

Great Thangka of Tibetan art and culture

Under the initiation, planning, organization, and guidance of the Tibetan senior handicraftsman Tsong Sherabgyal (Tsong-Zhe-Rab-rGyal), the huge Thangka painting was finally completed in September, 1999 in the town of Tongren / Rongwo in Qinghai Province.

The initial preparations for the Great Thangka were made in 1980 by Mr. Tsong Sherabgyal, who began the rough sketch in 1990 and in 1996 began the actual painting of this Thangka. He invited over 300 Tibetan handicraftsmen and artists from all over Tibet to participate in its creation, and they worked for over four years on this immense piece of history. The painting style that appears in the great Thangkas well as its content, depicts all aspects of Tibetan culture. This has never been attempted in the past.

The Great Thangka is the world's largest example of this unique Tibetan religious art form. At more than 618 meters long, 2.5 meters wide, and 1,000 kilograms in weight, it would take a person two months with a detailed visit and 6-8 hours with a simple visit to examine it fully.

The Great Thangka includes information on the world's formation, human creation, Tibetan origins, Tibetan monarchs, Sakyamuni’s biography, the origin and development of Tibetan Buddhist sects, the sciences of linguistics, technology, philosophy, medicine, astronomy, poetry, rhetoric, and drama, the Tibetan architect Thangtong Gyelpo (Thang-stong-rgyal-po)'s condensed biography, a condensed version of the Tibetan epic 'King Gesar', Tibetan scenic and historical sites, seven wise ministers and seven strategic generals in Tibetan h i s t o r y,  f e s t i v a l s and clothing, daily necessities, weapons, houses, tents, castles  patterns including the eight auspicious symbols, and pictures beseeching luck and fortune.

The newly created versions of Tibetan landscapes in the Great Thangka combine Tibetan and modern painting techniques, offering viewers a fresh interpretation of the familiar. There are 300 images of 30 palaces in minute from in this Thangka. In some places, a 1/30th square meter holds 2,480 pictures, which is only possible to paint with a very small soft-hair writing brush, and many other squares include many miniature pictures visible only with magnifier.

This Thangka is not only a jewel due to its depictions, but also because the actual material used in the creation of this masterpiece are hard to find. For example, Tibetan medicines, gold, silver, jade, powdered blue stone, agate, pearl, saffron, and coral have all been used in the production of this Thangka, making it a true rarity.

After the Thangka's creation, some experts and religious figures were invited by Mr. Tsong Sherabgyal to a meeting, where the scholars paid him a supreme tribute to the achievement of this Thangka. Mr. Ngabö Ngawang Jigme inscribed, "The Great Thangka has inherited and developed the art of Tibetan painting, and it is one of the greatest treasures of Chinese culture." Mr. Zhao Pu-Chu also inscribed, "Develop the traditional Tibetan Buddhist painting and promote Tibetan art and culture."

The Great Thangka was first shown in its birthplace, Tongren town of Rongwo valley, on September 1999.
There it won the certificate of "The largest Thangka in the world" from the Guinness World Record.
The GWR tributes the achievement of the Thangka and wish to display it around the world.

The Great Thangka was also exhibited in Xining, Qinghai Province, and was shown in the Museum of Chinese Historical Revolution from April 15th to June 3rd, 2001, in Beijing.

Mr. Tsong Sherabgyal and His Great Thangka

Mr. Tsong Sherabgyal, the General Designer, Chief of the Artistic Creation Group and Senior Handicraftsman of the great Tibetan Thangka, was born in December 1951 to a poor farming family in Wendu Yashong village in Qinghai's Xunhua county (Tib. Dowi).

Mr. Tsong Sherabgyal has had an ardent lifelong love for painting. During his childhood, he was always drawing on the ground, using his fingers as a paintbrush, later he studied under a famous artisan painter. Through many years of hard work, he has developed his own personal technique in the fields of painting and plaster carving. His uniquely-styled works are genuinely traditional and many of them have won famous prizes in various national art exhibitions.

During his middle age, after the mastery of his painting technique, he embarked on a task to create the world's longest and most dazzling beauty, a substantial part of the Thangka paiting. This would reveal human processes and the natural landscape of the Tibetan plateau, and hopefully increase the position of Thangka paintings in world opinion.

He began his dream by buying a camera in 1980 and started visiting nomadic tents, farmer's fields, monasteries, and deep forests in order to capture the lifestyle and beauty found within. After ten years of hard work, he had taken almost ten thousand pictures and wrote the Great Thangka's original text. His dream was beginning to come true.

After a long process of preparation, the Great Thangka was begun on May 1st, 1996. Because his Artistic Creation Group was a private organization, funds were lacking and no loans or grants had yet been acquired. He used his own money to pay the artists and buy the costly inks used in the painting. Later, the Huangnan Agricultural Bank granted him a loan, giving him an opportunity for his first rest in many years. Around this time, the Great Thangka was gaining more recognition from others and received increasing attention from various financial institutions. With the work going rather smoothly at this time, Mr. Tsong Sherabgyal worked on important revisions to the Thangka. The length increased dramatically from 300 meters to 618 meters, and he began inviting more than 70 scholars to help solve the logistical problems that arose from this increase in length. In 1997 he called a meeting of these scholars and published the Introduction book in Tibetan language called "Guide to the Tibetan Great Thangka of China." This is actually the only Tibetan cultural encyclopaedia, which will soon be translated and published in Chinese.

In August 1999, the Great Thangka was finally unveiled to the public, and Tsong Sherabgyal's second dream was realized. To show the elegant demeanour of this Thangka to the people of the Tibetan plateau is his third dream. Unfortunately, this Thangka painter is now with empty pockets and in a huge amount of debt. Though he holds the GWR certificate for the "Largest Thangka in the World", he needs support from friends who can help him exhibit his Thangka with confidence.

Mr. Tsong Sherabgyal hopes you will enjoy this work of great art, and is heartily hoping for ardent support from those who appreciate the care and time that goes into creating spectacular artwork.

click to enlarge


Dharmapala Centre - School of Thangka Painting
in English

Google: Thangka-Malerei

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Start of this page: 05-12-2001
Since that day we had