Paubha painting is a style unique to the Kathmandu Valley, and predates Tibetan thangkas.
People often assume paubhas are an offshoot of the thangka, but Newari legend has it the other way round. In the 8th century when Bhrikuti married Tibetan king Sron Tsan Gampo she took paubha artists with her to Tibet. This style later evolved into the thangka and ended up being more popular than the original paubhas.
Lok Chitrakar, Patan's noted paubha artist, admits there is a fine line between thangka and paubha.
"Until the 16th century the thangka was strictly a Newari style of painting," he says, surrounded by paintings in his Patan Dhoka studio, "but from the 16th century onwards the thangka came under heavy influence of Chinese styles."
Thangkas depict Buddhist subjects or even deities from the pre-Buddhist Bon faith, paubhas contain Hindu and Buddhist deities, reflecting the ancient symbiosis of Hinduism and Buddhism in Kathmandu Valley.
Newcomers to the art forms may not immediately perceive these differences, but they are what sets this uniquely Nepali style apart from the wider known Tibetan thangka.
In recent decades the tradition of paubha painting has been in decline. "This is a tragedy not just for Nepal, but for the whole world," says Chitrakar.
In an effort to preserve and revitalise the ancient art form, the National Heritage Society is organising an exhibition of paubha paintings this weekend (28-31 March) at the Kathmandu Guest House as part of the effort to revive this ancient devotional art form.
Paubhas are a visual representation of religions philosophy. They always feature a central deity who is the subject of the painting and sets moral and spiritual significance. The background and the details are up to the artist, but for the deity there are strict standards: body postures, facial expressions, skin complexions and hand gestures all carry important symbolism, developed over many centuries.
The deity's eyes are always painted last. The paints are traditionally made from crushed stones and vegetable dyes such as indigo, and sometimes silver and gold dust are mixed. The predominant colour of most paubhas is red, while blue, green and gold are used for accentuation. ('Paubha', #5, 'Nepal's biggest paubha mural', #32)
Chitrakar hopes the exhibition will bring back the paubha. "The tradition is disappearing everywhere, if it dies, it will never come back."
A total of 31 Paubhas will be displayed and for sale at the Kathmandu Guest house in Thamel 28-31March. Admission is free.
Friday, 28 March: 4:30-6PM
Saturday & Sunday,
29-30 March: 10AM-6PM
Monday, 31 March:
National Heritage Society