25 Nov - 1 Dec 2016 #834

Christmas thangkas

Honouring Tibetan Buddhist traditions and Christmas festival by selling Made in Nepal thangkas depicting the Santa Claus myth in the United States to help a monastery in Kathmandu

A U.S. based non-profit organisation has found a novel way to honour both Tibetan Buddhist traditions and the Christmas festival by selling Made in Nepal thangkas depicting the Santa Claus myth in the United States to help a monastery in Kathmandu.

The Christmas Thangka project involves having a digitally created photo-painting printed on cloth and sewn as a thangka and accompanying it with a text that serves as the traditional ‘peycha’ owner manual for the artwork. The viewer gets tips on how to use the thangka as a form of altruism.

A donation of $300 is suggested for the Christmas thangka and is tax-deductable. The proceeds from the sale of the scrolls will go to Nepali families connected to the Zatrul Rinpoche monastery in Parphing near Kathmandu.

“The Christmas Thangka is for people who celebrate Christmas, this project is the Sherpa Buddhist take on it,” says Hugh R Downs, author of the 1980 book, Rhythms of a Himalayan Village, who spent two years in Nepal as an apprentice to the Sherpa monk painter, Ngawong Lekshit.

Downs also hopes that the thangka will serve as a sustainable substitute for evergreen trees so that Christmas gifts can be placed under a painting of Santa Claus visiting the valley of Junbesi. As a historical footnote, Downs recalls that in the 19th century Tibet’s largest item of export to the west were yak tails that were used exclusively as Santa Claus’ beards.

In the thangka, Santa assumes the figure of Kuber, the Hindu deity who is a symbol of wealth and prosperity. Thangkas serve as meditation aid serving to cultivate a sense of selfless concern for other people. At the bottom of the Christmas thangka is a pile of traditional Christmas gifts and above them are depicted three windhorses bearing three flaming wish-granting jewels. In the backdrop is the scene of the Junbesi Valley with the Thupten Choling monastery and Mt Numbur.

Says Downs: “I hope the project will also reinstate the message of Christmas which has been drowned out by what some people see as hyperactive commercialisation.”


Read also

The world beyond thangkas, Smriti Basnet

Norbu’s neo-thangkas, Milan Wagle

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