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An interview with Sikkim's Thangka artist, Tenzing Wangdak
Tenzing Wangdak, 29 was born in a small town in Sikkim, where he grasped the special art of thangka painting. He used to visit monasteries from an early age. He was fascinated with the beautiful colourful paintings laid on its walls. It was in one of those monasteries, where he learnt thangka painting and since then he has taken rapid strides in this difficult art. It took him more than seven years to master the art. Presently, he is one of the most well known thangka painters in Sikkim.

Excerpts from the interview.

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Ashim Sunam (AS): Can you introduce Thangka painting to the readers?

Tenzing Wangdak (TW): The word 'Thangka' also known as 'thanka' itself is self explanatory, as in Tibetan, 'than' means flat and 'ka' implies painting. It is primarily a colourful painting depicting Buddhist deities and also a medium, which plays an important role in explaining the Buddhist philosophy. It also depicts the life of Buddha. Sometimes, thangka is also referred as road-map to enlightenment.

AS: How were you introduced to Thangka painting?

TW: I was a small boy, about the age of 7 when I was brought to the Bon monastery, where I did not know anything about thangka. But, during my course of study at the monastery, I learned to make thangka with my master who is also a monk at Bon Monastery – Kewzing. Every day in the monastery, my master used to paint thangka and I watched him do it. Gradually with time, he came to know about my interests in thangka painting, so he taught me to paint thangka.

AS: How many years did it take for you to master the art of Thangka painting?

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TW: It took me more than 7 years to learn this art of painting. Thangka painting is not an easy art to learn. It needs a lot of patience and practice. It is very tedious and difficult work as well.

AS: What do you use while making such paintings?

TW: Natural colours from vegetable, plants and chemical colours like oil paints are used in the process of painting, which makes it look beautiful. We also use paper canvas and cloth canvas to make Thangka.

AS:Do specific colours in these paintings have a special meaning?

TW: Yes, the different colors of those representations in the thangkas have a special meaning and significance for visual meditation.

AS: You have started teaching Thangka painting over the Internet. What led to this situation?

TW: I have been a painter for many a years and I feel that if I do not teach my younger generation about Thangka painting, then a time may soon arrive when the art of Thangka painting may get lost and our younger generation will never be able to learn about it, so I have started teaching Thangka painting over the web.

AS: Thangka paintings have become commercial now. Does this help in the growth of Thangka artists?

TW: After Thangka painting became commercialised, it has brought people like us to the international arena. People from all around the world have started to buy Thangka. Monasteries and worship place are the common place where one can spot such paintings, but now, it has also found its place in houses, and people have also started gifting such paintings to their friends and relatives. So, this has brought a good exposure for people like us. We also get a chance to earn our livelihood through this art and sustain ourselves in this world economically.

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