Thangkas, portable religious scroll paintings, were necessary in Tibet because of the nomadic lifestyle of this early culture. Originally painted with mineral pigments and pure gold ink on a prepared cotton, and framed as a scroll in silk brocade.
The earliest known use of applique to create huge thangkas dates from the fourteenth century when a giant image was designed by the 4th Karmapa Rolpe Dorje, 1340-1383. These huge appliques known in Tibet as "Goku", ( silk brocade image ), or "thongdrol", meaning liberation by sight.
These pieces combined Tibetan artistic style with Indian and Chinese textiles, utilizing indigenous appliqué techniques in the use in the making of festival tents, ritual dance costumes, and altar decorations. The early Karmapa's tent encampments called the Garchen, traveled to remote areas of Tibet bringing the Dharma teachings to the people. The Garchen was essential in the development of the Karma Gadri style of the lineage, This began with Namka Tashi, considered an emanation of the 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje, one of the many Karmapas who were notable artists. The 9th Karmapa, Wanchuk Dorje had the great Tsurphu Goku made in 1590. Sadly this was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution in the mid 1960s. A new goku was replaced in 1994, and His Holiness the 17th Karmapa has called this the Karma Gadri Goku.
By the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, with the popularly of applique, and goku in Tibet, this influence traveled to Mongolia, Bhutan, and parts of North India.. Many large monasteries adapted their sewing workshops to the making of appliques.
The silk applique form was used for large pieces, some many stories high, which were displayed on hillsides or lowered down temple buildings for special holidays.
Tibetan iconography called tigtse in Tibetan is the sacred geometry of Tibet. Different classes of figures are divided into groups, each group has its own special measurements. Since all of Buddhism comes from the Buddha he is the largest measurement.
1. Buddhas, including important teachers of the Vajrayana and major tantric figures.
2. Bodhisattvas or Sons of the Buddha.
3. Female Bodhisattvas including Dakinis
4. Protectors of the Dharma.
Thongdrol, the Buddhist science of "liberation by sight", comes with the viewing of a perfectly proportioned figure ( sacred geometry ) this plants the seed of enlightenment in the viewers heart, and leads to eventual enlightenment.
Some of these pages contain my teacher's teacher's early 20th century sketchbook of Tibetan sacred geometry grids, some from other traditions I have collected over the years. These grids for centuries were aids in learning to draw the Buddha images using sacred geometry.
One my teachers and friends of that period 1969-1975 was the late Sherpa artist Kapa Ngawong Damcho, also known as Pargyaltsen, who was educated in Tsang Southern Tibet at Tashilunpo Monastery. He lived near and worked for the great master Tsulshik Rimpoche at Tubten Choling in Solu Khumbu, Nepal.
1972 while working in Solu Khumbu, Eastern Nepal, I had the good fortune to photograph these sketchbooks.
Many of the books were originally drawn on handmade Tibetan paper, and made by a bamboo pen, brush, and black ink, a custom used to store ideas and traditional designs.
All such resources proved most helpful when Terris and Leslie created two giant appliqué thangkas for Tsurphu Monastery, Tibet. (1992-97), as well as the Drabje's we are now creating.
We are pleased to share these images with those who are interested in Tibetan Art. More images will be added as I am reworking this site.