Yangka – the artist par excellence

Meet Yangka, from Wangdue Phangyul, a master artist. 

He makes embroidered thangka and thongdrel, which are religious scrolls made out of silk threads with Buddhist deities, divinities and historical figures.

Thangkas are smaller scrolls for private homes and altars, and thongdrel are the large ones that are displayed in and outside the temples.

I order three thangkas from him and I also asked if I could take a look at the large Thogdrel that he had just finished and had packed. He was so humble that he keep saying, “Oh, I am not as good as others. I am happy if people are happy with my work.”

When he reopened the pack I was like, “Damn! You should be blind not to like his work.”

The large 20 feet tall thongdrel depicts Buddha Shakyamuni and the sixteen arhats (direct disciples of Buddha) and has been commissioned for Tsalungna Nye.

He has a team of young artists and tailors who make those thousands of tiny pieces of figurines with silk, and he puts them all together to make the large scroll. He refers to no drawings, paintings, or designs. Everything is in his head 😵‍💫😵‍💫😵‍💫

He says that profit is not his motive. He rather believes he is practicing Dharma through his art. “If I can pay off my people, and cover the rent, I am OK. I don’t need more.”

He doesn’t remember all the large thongdrels he made but the one he does, and cherishes the most, is Zhabdrung Phunsum Tshogpa, which is supposed to be inside the Sacred Machen temple in Punakha, and the one unfurled annually during Zhabdrung Kuchoe.

Someone who gets to place his work inside the Machen, and outside of it too, got to THE best. 

I bought this Buddha Sakyamuni thangka, and ordered two more with Guru Rimpoche and Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel.

Contact info:

Yangka has his workshop at Hejo in Thimphu. You should visit him and see his work.

The embroidered thangka and the artist who did it for me
The 20 feet tall and 25 feet wide Thongdrel


According to an article on BuddhistDoor, “The use of silk to create sacred art grew out of these fluctuating Mongol-Tibetan-Chinese interconnections.” in the 13th Century. The article further argues that “during this period textile copies of Tibetan paintings began to be produced in China, using Chinese techniques of weaving and embroidery. Reynolds notes that these silken images held “greater cachet than the paintings they were copied from” (Reynolds 1995, 147)”.

In 1468 the First Dalai Lama is believed to have commissioned a very large silken image of the Buddha Sakyamuni to be displayed on the 9-storied wall of Tashilhunpo monastery. This embroudered Buddha could be the first thongdrel in the world.

Furthermore, this embroidery art not only flourished in Tibet but spread to Mongolia, Ladakh and Bhutan by the 18th Century.

From all the embroidered pieces I have seen in Bhutan, by far the most beautiful piece is in Seula Gonpa in Punakha. The 10 feet tall thangka depicts the founder of the Gonpa, Jamgon Ngawang Gyeltshen, and was made and offered by the King of Derge, where he served as an emissary.

One of the most sacred thongdrel is the Paro Thongdrel that is unfurled and displayed to public during Paro Tshechu.

13th century thangka, Tibet Museum, Lhasa (Photo taken from asianarts.com)
Vajrapani, China, 14th Century. Rubins Museum, New York

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