Tibetan Opera and Thangka

Tibetan Opera

Tibetan Opera is called “Ace Lhamo” or “Lhamo” in Tibetan language, meaning “Fairy”. It is said that Thongdong Gyalpo, a high-ranking monk of the Kagyu Sect created it. To raise money for constructing a bridge, he selected seven pretty girls from among his followers and organized a performance team to perform the simplified Buddhist stories in a way of singing and dancing. Then the tradition was passed down and later became a dramatis form dominated by singing and dancing with flamboyant masks. Different masks represent different roles, the red mask referring to the King, the green one the queen, the yellow one lamas and deities, etc.

Tibetan operas employ singing and dancing to tell stories, reflecting Tibetan people’s lives of various periods. Some traditional programs are still known today, including Princess Wencheng, Dhama King Norsang, Miss Langsha, etc. The performance follows fixed procedures: in the first part, actors and actresses are introduced and the story is outlined; the center part is the opera itself and the last part is a ritual of blessing and also an occasion for audience to offer Khada and donations.

The best time to watch Tibetan opera is in Shoton Festival when troupes from across Tibet to gather at Norbulinka to perform their best programs.

Tibetan Thangka

Thangka is a kind of scroll-banner painting mounted on silk. It can be seen in almost every monastery and family shrine in Tibet. As a unique Tibetan art, it has distinctive ethnic features and a strong religious flavor.

Thangka appeared in around the tenth century and developed following the spread of Buddhism. In terms of techniques involved, Thangka can be divided into several categories such as painted Thangka, weaving Thangka, embroidery Thangka, paster Thangka, etc. Among them, painted Thangka is the most popular one. It is painted on cloth, silk or paper. These fabric Thangkas have compact composition, fine patterns and bright colors. Some of them are even inlaid with pearls and precious stones. All the images of Thangka follow strict fixed proportions. The featured deity or saint occupies the center part while other deities or monks at the corners or along the border in smaller size. After drawing, it will be mounted on a piece of brocaded silk and attached with a wooden sticks on the top and bottom of the silk for easy holding and hanging.

Thangkas depict a wide range of themes including Tibetan religion, history, social life, folk customs and traditional medicine. As it is easy to make and store, not limited by the variety of buildings, it becomes a means to spread Tibetan Buddhism and record historic events, personages as well as the ancient Tibetan astronomy and medicine. But very few Thangkas bear the names of the painters. In the past, many senior monks were not only masters of Buddhist theory, but also excellent painters. Over a long period of time, different schools have appeared, the most famous being the Karma Gadri and Menri Karma Gadri.