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Thangka: A 400-year Tibetan art loved by Kelsang Dawa

Updated:2018-08-28 17:45:13   Yunnan Gateway

Entering the Shangri-La thangka painting gallery, you can see a prayer wheel and some Mani stones, both reminders of the Tibetan culture. The gallery lies near the entrance of Dukezong, a centuries-old Tibetan neighborhood in the center of Shangri-La.

Among the thangkas hanging on the wall, a painting called Manjushri is eye-catching. The piece is done by Kelsang Dawa, head of the thangka gallery. Thanks to the brilliant painting, Kelsang Dawa was listed among the first Chinese thangka masters.

Born in 1980 in Rebgong, an area in Qinghai province widely regarded as the home of thangka, Kelsang Dawa first showed his extraordinary talent in thangka painting at seven, when he was learning the art from his father.

At the age of 11, he began to learn about the thangka painting from master monks, and his learning in the temples lasted till the age of 20. In the ten years, the devoted thangka-loving Kelsang Dawa took part in painting large thangka pieces for many temples.

Because of his learning zest, active exploration and bold innovation, Kelsang Dawa formed his own painting style, while carrying forward the fine skills in traditional thangka painting. His thangka works feature full patterns, smooth lines, bright colors, and vivid figures. Years later, his paintings began to gain fame.

In 2007, Kelsang Dawa visited Shangri-La by chance and decided to continue painting thangka here. “People worldwide see Shangri-La as a pure land, and so do I.” Back then, few professional painters based in Shangri-La. 

In the ensuing years, Kelsang Dawa opened the Shangri-La thangka painting gallery, where he not only paints thangka but also trains locals in painting skills. Now three trainees have been recognized as inheritors of the intangible cultural heritages at the county-level.

When it comes to the problems of his gallery, Kelsang Dawa first mentioned financial difficulty. “At first, tourists always ask me why it is so expensive, and I have to explain the Thangka painting and let them know its value.” 

In the 2014 fire, more than 500 thangkas in the gallery were reduced to ashes, but Kelsang Dawa did not give up. With support from locals in Shangri-La, he reopened the gallery soon. 

Now the gallery has grown to be a culture center for promoting the thangka art.

Source: xgll.com.cn; trans-editing Wang Shixue

Keywords:   Thangka Tibetan Kelsang Dawa