The Buddhist sacred paintings, the thangkas, that originated in Tibet, are renowned the world over; the Nepalese paubhas influenced by ancient Hindu sacred paintings and texts are relatively lesser known. Both thangkas and paubhas are valued not only as objects of meditation and worship but also as works of art.
Painting has occupied a special position among the arts and crafts of Nepal and has served as a medium for expressing religious beliefs in worship. The art of painting grew along with metal iconography as an important form through which the highest ideals of Buddhism and Hinduism were brought alive and evoked. Sacred paintings, such as the paubha or thangka, were commissioned, worshipped, and cherished. These sacred paintings illuminating a deity or event, usually of a religious nature, are depicted on a scroll of cotton or silk cloth that is beautifully mounted on a brocade fabric. On completion of a sacred painting the ritual for merit dedication is followed, inspired by a desire to attain enlightenment. Prayers are made which place a final seal on the meritorious act, which accrued to the ultimate attainment of enlightenment. This, it is believed guarantees that the meritorious deed will bear the highest and most lasting fruit.
The painting of thangkas in Nepal is an ancient tradition. The Tibetan exodus further led to their proliferation, with a number of shops in Katmandu Valley beginning to sell them. As sacred paintings they were not supposed to be sold; however, as there was a great demand for them they were painted for sale and were available in the market. The thangkas no longer need to be commissioned and can be bought off the shelf - however thangkas bought of the shelf have to be consecrated to a deity before they can be worshipped.
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