PRESERVING TIBETAN CULTURE
Norbulingka is dedicated to handing down tradition and restoring standards by providing training, education and employment for Tibetans. It supports an environment in which Tibetan community and family values can flourish. It reconciles the traditional creatively and respectfully with the modern, and seeks to create an international awareness of Tibetan values and their expression in art and literature. Visit Norbulingka Institute at norbulingka.org
TIBETAN RELIGIOUS ART
Thangkas are used by Tibetan Buddhist practitioners to help them develop a close relationship with a meditational deity. They assist the meditator in clearly visualizing particular images. Commissioning a thangka painting is regarded as a way of generating spiritual merit. Thangkas are also used to portray members of a teaching lineage or, in a narrative form, to depict a spiritual master’s life, often involving scenes of intricate detail. The earliest instances of Tibetan painting date from the 7th century CE, when Buddhism first had an impact on Tibet, during the reign of King Songtsen Gampo.
The creation of fabric thangkas, mostly made of silk, some of them woven, some embroidered and others made using a technique similar to appliqué, goes back many centuries in Tibet. The appliqué artists at Norbulingka do their finest work when they make silk thangkas. Constructed of hundreds of hand-cut pieces of silk and brocade, these elaborate creations require many months of work. Silk thangka and appliqué work were revived at Norbulingka Institute under the guidance of the Master Thangka Painter, Temba Chöphel, who had briefly trained under Gyeten Namgyal, the 13th Dalai Lama’s Master Tailor.
Two major sculptural traditions flourished in Tibet: one in which statues were modelled of clay that was not fired, but was allowed to dry and cure naturally. In the second, statues were made of metal, employing both the lost wax process that is mostly used to cast smaller images and the tradition employed at Norbulingka in which colossal statues are wrought from copper sheet and gilded before being assembled. The work involves two highly skilled techniques, repoussé, meaning pushed out from behind, because the metal is worked using a hammer and shaping tools from the reverse side, and chasing. The metal may be worked on an adjustable anvil or over a bed of pitch that supports the material as it is shaped. These techniques allow the achievement of tremendous detail, not only with regard to facial and other features, but also in the remarkable flow of garments and the rich decoration of ornamental haloes.