Hidden from public gaze, shrouded in mystery, inaccessible and unknown lies a vast treasure of creative expression in the monasteries of the Himalayan ranges. They extend from Gilgit, Ladakh, Zanskar, Guge to Sikkim, Bhutan and beyond the snows are the monasteries of Tibet. An unbroken, rich and varied tradition unfolds itself on walls as mural paintings, as terracotta and stucco and bronze in votive objects, and above all in Thankas.
The monasteries of Ladakh may not have the antiquity of Tibetan monasteries, but are today the most important and valuable monastic institutions, which represent the symbosis of the Tibetan, Central Asian and Indian traditions. Despite the recent popularity of Ladakh specially Alchi, and Hemis, the Thankas in the collection of several monasteries have remained unseen and inaccessible. Repeated visits to Ladakh during the last few years gave me strength and courage to suggest to the monasteries that an exhibition of Thankas from some of these monasteries should be organized in Delhi. The monks responded favourably. The Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies in Sarnath and the Central Institute of Buddhist Studies in Ladakh persevered to make this possible. From amongst the several thousand of Thankas and 10 or 12 principal monasteries, only a sampling is presented here. This is very first exhibition of hitherto unseen uncatalogued Thankas principally from the collections of phiyang, Likhir and Spituk and will give a glimpse of the variety of content, style and technique. The selection has been made with a view to present Thankas under certain groups serial. Instead of choosing single example from different series, the attempt has been to present a full series of Arhats, Panchen and the Buddha Avdana.
The research for the catalogue and its presentation is the work of young Lama Ngawang Samten. It provides an insight into these Thankas, which is as authentic as it is rare. For the first time, perhaps, it is the insider's view on the Thankas and their artistic characteristics.
While the art of Tibet and Tibetan scrolls and paintings have been the subject of research by scholars of the eminence of Stein, Tucci, Richardson, Pal and others, perhaps this exhibition will add light to these explorations. Hopefully, it will stimulate curiosity and a determination to conserved this vast heritage to document it and to interpret it.
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