Religion in the Art of Tibet

Marice Providence



I have chosen to study the art and religion in Tibet. It has been clear to my understanding that there are many cultures in Asia that endure a lot more than just festivities and food in China. But have more in depth cultures, states and religions that are taught and followed throughout the country of China. Tibet is one of them; Tibetans follow Buddhist teachings.  A religion that is predominantly known in India and has artistic idioms to create the vision of their god. You know when an item is representing Buddhism when you see a simply sat man with his hair up-in a bun with legs crossed and arms set either on the side or in front of him. I chose Tibetan art to study and realized a lot is involved with the culture and the beliefs within Buddhism.

Guatama Buddha is the full name of the Indian god who enlightens life and teaches sensual indulgence throughout eastern parts of India, as well as practiced abstinence from worldly pleasures. Tibetan Buddhists weren’t ones to over excess anything they enjoyed. Such as food and sex, a sensual delight. Buddha is known as the answer to all suffering. Details of his life has been summarized after his death and has been memorable stories to tell to generations according to Buddhists. A collection of teachings have been passed down orally and through written scriptures since his death.  

In celebration of his teachings and brilliant sense of life, Tibetans celebrate Saka Dawa. A celebration and festival held every year for one month in celebration of Buddha’s enlightenment, birth and death. You can think of it as a fun and engaging form of Ramadan. It is a period in their time where they dedicate themselves to spiritual and positive actions. Any good deed that is done within the time can be multiplied over. Its’ like wishing you good luck on the rest of your year because you fed the homeless before going home and eating your own dinner. Any good deed can lead to great achievements in life according to Buddhist’s belief.


The Saka Dawa takes place on the fourth Tibetan month. The festival is always on the 15th day of the 4th month.This year it began on May 7th and ended on June 5th. Some actions that are commonly taken merit to during this time is; refraining from eating meat, which you can refer to this month as the “Vegetarian month”. Offering donations and reciting their “mantra”, a prayer they recite on a daily basis. On the 15th day of Saka Dawa, it is prominent in their month of celebration. It is the most holy day of the month because the full moon is present. It is called the Full Moon day of Saka Dawa. The festivals and activities held throughout Saka Dawa releases a variation of different arts. Tibetans dance, paint, sew, and sing as a offering to Buddha. These offerings are known to praise and thank Buddha for all of his teachings and inspirational motivations in his life.


Thangkas are a main item during this celebration. It is a painted or sewn figure of Buddha. They praise and thank the figures to assure their achievements. Almost anywhere in Tibet, you’d find a painted or sewn version of Buddha. The intents always depend on the relationship of the artist and their god. Thangkas can be a representation of skill and training, iconographic specifications, regional and doctrinal differences in style and may change in form of harsh treatment and altered mountings. It may be a happy or angered promotion of self indulgence. It is a guide to serve a record of contemplative experience. For example it is kind of like your self portrait during your first year of core classes.

The thangka is used to express their own insight and experience. An example of people who may refer to the thangka often during this celebration are teachers. A teacher may use a thangka as a meditation master and create a new arrangement of the Buddha to convey insight so their students can benefit from it. A teaching experience is used and developed from this form of art. As it was formed to teach a practice and to train those who follow the religion to express in the goodness and positive ways of their god and for their god.

There are many ways a Buddha is interpreted by his people, colors, figures, location in the painting each may have a sentimental meaning to those that have created the figure. Each artistic figure of Buddha may be the same, but is totally different when looking from the artists’ perspective. The meaning behind it and the meaning to be portrayed and taught may be very different from the intent of the art.

I think it is very interesting how one thing may seem the same but very different. Buddhism seems like a fun religion to be in compared to an Islamic religion. Where the intent is a lot more strict and non artistic. Buddhism is a free and prospering religion that allows you to do good for those around you and yourself and teaches through paintings, sculptures, sewn scripts and etc. I love the way the Tibetans have used art to portray their beliefs.



One thought on “Religion in the Art of Tibet

  1. Theo Hammond

    We learned a lot about Buddhism in our Ghosts and Ancestors class this semester. One of the things we learned which I thought was very cool is that there are many different forms of Buddhism, depending on what country or region you are in. For example, within China there are many different types of Buddhism that may be practiced within 100-mile radios. Although China has seen much religious persecution du to the governments nature to “control” society through religious practices, Buddhism is one of the five official religions in China and has been widely popular and for the most part tolerated by the government for quit some time now. Another interesting thing we learned was that in China, it is not uncommon for people to mix and match the five different religions, taking certain aspects from each one that the individual or community may find most valuable for a particular reason. For example, one might celebrate certain festivals from one religion, but then worship the gods from another religion. I think this is one way that new religions have come about in China in the last 100, years, and it will be interesting to see how these new religions will fit into Chinese society


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *