Snapshot: Buying Thangkas in Tongren

by Jessica Marsden on August 6, 2010

Unrolling thangkas at Wutun Si.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my trip last year to Tongren, in the far east of Qinghai Province. The city is home to two art-schools-cum-monasteries that are, collectively, the capital of Tibetan Buddhist art in China. The monks and former monks paint bright, colorful images of bodhisattvas, called, thangkas, the best of which end up in monasteries as far away as Lhasa. Naturally, we weren’t about to leave without paintings of our own.

In art stores and in monasteries, monks and former monks who trained as painters at the two monasteries of Wutun Si unrolled vast poster-sized thangkas and tiny postcard-sized ones. Our shopping excursion turned into an art and religion class, as we learned to recognize different bodhisattvas and different styles of thangka. While most of the paintings we examined were multicolored, like the one in the photo above, others were almost entirely red or entirely black, with gold lines to delineate the shape of the figure.

In the end, our budgets weren’t big enough for one of the more elaborate poster-sized paintings. But I have a small painting of White Tara to remind me of my time in not-quite-Tibet.

Headed to Qinghai? Check out my Qinghai Province travel guide, info on budgeting a trip through western China, and photos from my favorite monastery, Youning Si.

This is the latest in a series of Friday snapshots featuring photos from my travels in China and beyond.

Related posts:

  1. Snapshot: Lama Temple, Beijing
  2. Snapshot: Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang
  3. Snapshot: Pha That Luang
  4. Slideshow: Youning Si
  5. Snapshot: The Great Buddha at Todai-ji

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