Thangka is one of the three major forms of Tibetan sacred art the other two being wall and card paintings. In Tibetan 'than' means 'flat' and 'ka' means 'art', that is, thangka is a painted flat surface worthy of rolling and transporting and, thus, essentially on cloth. In its standard format a thangka is an upright rectangular banner with some two to three silk strips of red, yellow and green around and a blue silk mount. This mount is usually broader on the lower side of the thangka. The painted or embroidered part has often a thin protective cover and two wooden rolls on its top and bottom. The top wooden roll has attached to it a couple of hanging silk ribbons.
This wall hanging has been endowed with all these attributes of a Tibetan thangka, though different from a thangka, which is essentially Buddhist, the theme of this wall hanging is Saraswati, a Hindu and Jain, with Ganesha and Karttikeya. It is, however, interesting to note that the artist has rendered Saraswati image inside a dual frame embellished with rich gold arabesques exactly as has been used by the Tibetan artists for framing their Buddha images in their thangkas. With prominently rendered plants around this frame the image of Saraswati looks like that of Medicine Buddha, one of the main eight forms of Buddha. In her features, crown etc. Saraswati has reflections of Buddhist iconography. Various dragon forms and other mythical creatures including lion figures supporting Saraswati's pedestal are typical of Tibetan thangkas. These art forms have their roots in ancient Chinese art traditions.
Saraswati, also invoked as Vagadevi, Vagisvari or Bhariti etc., is worshipped in India as the goddess of learning and revered as one of the sacred streams. It is for such reasons that she is also identified as the celestial river of heaven. She represents music and all arts and culture. She is hence seen in her iconography playing on a lyre with two of her four hands. In her other hands she carries a rosary and a book. She rides a swan, known for its purity and sacred origin. Ganesha, the lord of learning and Karttikeya, Parvati's other son, known for devotion, intelligence and service, usually form part of Saraswati iconography. She has been painted here as one emerging from the ocean and rising into sky.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of ancient Indian literature. Dr Daljeet is the chief curator of the Visual Arts Gallery at the National Museum of India, New Delhi. They have both collaborated on numerous books on Indian art and culture.