History of thangka Paintings in Nepal began in 11th century A.D. when Buddhists and Hindus began to make illustration of the deities and natural scenes. Historically, Tibetan and Chinese influence in Nepalese paintings is quite evident in Paubhas (Thangkas). Paubhas are of two types, the Palas which are illustrative paintings of the deities and the Mandala, which are mystic diagrams paintings of complex test prescribed patterns of circles an square each having specific significance.
It was through Nepal that Mahayana Buddhism was introduced into Tibet during reign of Angshuvarma in the seventh century A.D. There was therefore a great demand for religious icons and Buddhist manuscripts for newly built monasteries throughout Tibet. A number of Buddhist manuscripts, including Prajnaparamita, were copied in Kathmandu Valley for these monasteries. Astasahas rika Prajnaparamita for example, was copied in Patan in the year 999 A.D., during the reign of Narendra Dev and Udaya Deva, for the Sa-Shakya monastery in Tibet. For the Nor monastery in Tibet, two copies were made in Nepal-one of Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita in 1069 A.D. and the other of Kavyadarsha in 1111 A.D. The influence of Nepalese art extended till Tibet and even beyond in China in regular order during the thirteenth century. Nepalese artisans were dispatched to the courts of Chinese emperors at their request to perform their workmanship and impart expert knowledge. The exemplary contribution made by the artisans of Nepal, specially by the Nepalese innovator and architect Balbahu, known by his popular name "Arniko" bear testimony to this fact even today. After the introduction of paper, palm leaf became less popular, however, it continued to be used until the eighteenth century. Paper manuscripts imitated the oblong shape but were wider than the palm leaves.
From the fifteenth century onwards, brighter colours gradually began to appear in Nepalese.Thanka / Thangka. Because of the growing importance of the Tantric cult, various aspects of Shiva and Shakti were painted in conventional poses. Mahakala, Manjushri, Lokeshwara and other deities were equally popular and so were also frequently represented in Thanka / Thangka paintings of later dates. As Tantrism embodies the ideas of esoteric power, magic forces, and a great variety of symbols, strong emphasis is laid on the female element and sexuality in the paintings of that period.
Religious paintings worshipped as icons are known as Paubha in Newari and Thanka / Thangka in Tibetan. The origin of Paubha or Thanka / Thangka paintings may be attributed to the Nepalese artists responsible for creating a number of special metal works and wall- paintings as well as illuminated manuscripts in Tibet. Realizing the great demand for religious icons in Tibet, these artists, along with monks and traders, took with them from Nepal not only metal sculptures but also a number of Buddhist manuscripts. To better fulfil the ever - increasing demand Nepalese artists initiated a new type of religious painting on cloth that could be easily rolled up and carried along with them. This type of painting became very popular both in Nepal and Tibet and so a new school of Thanka / Thangka painting evolved as early as the ninth or tenth century and has remained popular to this day. One of the earliest specimens of Nepalese Thanka / Thangka painting dates from the thirteenth /fourteenth century and shows Amitabha surrounded by Bodhisattva. Another Nepalese Thanka / Thangka with three dates in the inscription (the last one corresponding to 1369 A.D.), is one of the earliest known Thanka / Thangka with inscriptions. The "Mandalaof Vishnu " dated 1420 A.D., is another fine example of the painting of this period. Early Nepalese Thangkas are simple in design and composition. The main deity, a large figure, occupies the central position while surrounded by smaller figures of lesser divinities.
Thanka / Thangka painting is one of the major science out the five major and five minor fields of knowledge. It's origin can be traced all the way back to the time of Lord Buddha. The main themes of Thanka / Thangka paintings are religious. During the reign of Dharma King Trisong, Duetsen the Tibetan masters refined there already well developed arts through research and studies of different country's tradition. Thanka painting's lining and measurement, costumes, implementations and ornaments are all based on Indian style. The drawing of figures are based on Nepalese style and the background sceneries are based on Chinese style. Thus, the Thanka / Thangka paintings became a unique and distinctive art.
Thanka / Thangka have developed in the northern Himalayan regions among the Lamas. Besides Lamas, Gurung and Tamang communities are also producing Tankas, which provide substantial employment opportunities for many people in the hills. Newari Thankas (Also known as Paubha) has been the hidden art work in Kathmandu valley from 13th century. We have preserved this art and are exclusively creating this with some particular painter family who have inherited their art from their forefathers.Some of the artistic religious and historical paintings are also done by the Newars of Kathmandu Valley.