How to arrange the draped silk thangka cover

In May, I explained how to hang a thangka. In that post, I made a distinction between the heavy ties at the top of the frame, intended to support the weight of the thangka, and a thinner cord at the front intended to hold the silk drape. Now, if you’ve had your thangka hung on the wall since May and can’t figure out how to get that silk drape out of the way, this post is for you.

The original purpose of the silk drape was probably to protect uninitiated practitioners from seeing imagery which they were not yet prepared to integrate.

Tantric practices of Buddhism are passed from master to initiate through direct instruction and empowerment rituals. These empowerments or initiations serve to activate the practitioner’s innate potential for realization. Traditionally, they were also a way for a spiritual teacher to manage the pace of instruction to coincide with a student’s progress. Students were expected to have a deep understanding of sutra and a direct experience of emptiness before entering the tantric path. Images of tantric deities were to be seen only by the initiated, who had attained a level of understanding which would allow them to interpret and use the images positively, and effectively. Under these circumstances, a cover served to keep the images hidden between practice sessions, when the uninitiated may have been present.

These days, images of tantric deities are widely visible in books, shops, museums, and on the internet. And lamas are granting empowerments liberally. The silk cover’s protection has become somewhat superfluous.

Moreover, peaceful deities like Tara and Avalokiteshvara and idealized images of historic figures like Buddha Shakyamuni and Guru Padmasambhava were never meant to be hidden. So no cover was necessary (unless perhaps it served to cover the image in a person’s home when they engaged in activities they’d rather the buddhas didn’t know about).

Over time, the silk drape became a traditional element of the thangka mounting and now serves mostly as decoration.

If kept down, it may also protect the thangka to some extent from the damaging effects of dust and light. But most of us who have thangkas in our homes prefer to see them and be inspired by them daily.

In the photos below, I demonstrate a method for arranging the drape in a decorative flourish at the top of the thangka:

Starting point: drape down

Starting point: drape down

 

Gather drape from the bottom, accordion style

Gather drape from the bottom, accordion style

Continue gathering the silk, folding it back and forth in your hand, until you reach the top of the thangka mounting.

Continue gathering the silk, folding it back and forth in your hand, until you reach the top of the thangka mounting.

When you reach the top, push the gathered drape up under the cord at the front of the wooden bar at the top of the mounting.

When you reach the top, push the gathered drape up under the cord at the front of the wooden bar at the top of the mounting.

Bring the gathered silk up between the mounting and the cord...

Bring the gathered silk up between the mounting and the cord…

Finished result. See the poof at the top, falling to the front of the cord. Make small adjustments, pulling and arranging until the lower edges of the drape make a semi-circle above the image.

Finished result. See the poof at the top, falling to the front of the cord. Make small adjustments, pulling and arranging until the lower edges of the drape make a semi-circle above the image.

If your thangka mounting also has long silk ribbons hanging from the top, you have a choice. You can  leave them hanging freely in front of the thangka if you like the look. Or, if you prefer to get them out of the way, you can take them over the upper bar of the mounting and let them hang down the back.

Enjoy living with your thangkas and let them inspire you daily!

 
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  1. Alaya03-06-10

    Thanks for sharing this – it is very helpful. I just recieved my 2nd Thangka, but my first with a silk cover. Pictures are worth a thousand words! Metta, Alaya

    • Leslie03-06-10

      Thanks, Alaya, I’m so glad the explanation was helpful. Just after receiving your comment, I met a woman who asked me to explain to her how to hang her thangka and arrange the silk drape. There must be curiosity about this in the air these days. Though I wrote this post months ago, your comment made it fresh in my mind so I could refer this woman directly to it. Thanks for that reminder!

  2. Samantha04-17-10

    Was pretty stumped when we unrolled our thangka three or four months after we bought it. The step-by-step pictures of the silk-folding where enormously helpful. Thanks!

    • Leslie04-20-10

      So glad the photos helped you. I guess a picture still is ‘worth a thousand words’!

      I was also reminded of that fact this weekend when I demonstrated an embroidery technique to a student. We’d been writing back and forth about it and failing to understand each other. As soon as she SAW, visually, how the stitch worked, all confusion was cleared away.

      Enjoy your thangka, Samantha! And take care. L

  3. Dan07-28-10

    Thank you for taking the time to post this. I was perplexed by hanging my thangka, Googled and found you. Thanks again. Metta, Dan

  4. Leslie07-28-10

    And thank YOU, Dan, for taking the time to let me know. Comments like yours make it all worthwhile!
    Wishing you well,
    Leslie

  5. rubén08-25-10

    Thank you for your clear posts on hanging and arranging the draped silk. I really appreciated the posts and the pictures, now my thangka looks much better. peace and joy,
    rubén

  6. Leslie08-25-10

    Oh, this is great. I just love how a post written once can keep on helping! So glad your thangka’s looking better, Rubén. I’m sending a few of my own thangkas to Sun Valley this week — for exhibition at the SV Spiritual Film Festival — and I’ve included these instructions in the package to help the people who will set up the show. Glad to know you’ve found them useful.

  7. Jody12-14-10

    Tashi Delek! I just returned from Tibet with several thangkas. The artists had shown me how to fold the drape before they rolled up my thangkas. When I returned home, I had forgotten how to fold the drape. Thank you for this post! It refreshed my memory and now the thangkas are hanging in all their glory.

    • Leslie12-15-10

      Dear Jody,
      So glad this was helpful. I know how hard it is to remember what someone shows you once, especially in an unfamiliar and stimulating environment. I’m glad to be able to provide a durable reference you can look back to when the moment is right. I know I need to go back to my notes every time I MAKE a brocade frame for one of my thangkas. The framing is something I do infrequently, so I need to refer back to my sources. I imagine it’s the same for most thangka owners who only rarely re-hang their thangkas.

      Enjoy and take care,
      Leslie

  8. matt B02-13-11

    This was great. My wife just bought me a beautiful Thangka and this helped me figure out how to hang it. Do you have ideas of where they should be hung? I have my own meditation room and really was not sure.

  9. Leslie02-14-11

    Thangkas should be hung in a respectful position where they’ll most inspire you. They should not be placed on the floor or on a bed or seat. Generally, you want to look slightly upward to them, because the lift of your chin and eyes will evoke feelings of openness, aspiration, and respect in you.

  10. Dharma Friend07-25-11

    just goes to show you you can find anything on the internet. Even though I have seen lots of thankas, I had never carefully studied how the drape cover was tied at the top. when I recevied my first thanka I was perplexed as to how to do this. you saved the day!

  11. John07-27-11

    Thanks for a great blog! I have 16-arm mahakala & consort tkangka that was stretched (from its silk borders, not the paper) on a stetcher, and the veil, etc. removed. Do you know of a source where I can find a sewing pattern for brocade-framing a thangka, including how to decide proportions and colors? I have a good source for Varanassi brocades.

    • http://threadsofawakening.com/wp-content/themes/parallelus-traject/images/icons/gravatar1.png
      LeslieRW07-27-11

      I know of no such patterns, John. Everyone I know who makes the brocade frames learned to do so directly from someone else. An oral tradition, an apprenticeship tradition. View my “Who Can Frame my Thangka in Brocade?” post and its comments for some brocade-framing referrals:
      http://threadsofawakening.com/who-can-frame-my-thangka-in-brocade

  12. Garima01-05-12

    Hi Leslie, thanks for giving such detailed instruction. I have a thankga that I wanted to put in my living room. Had no clue what to do with the silk drape. With the help of ur blog I was able to arrange it beautifully. Thanks once again.

    • http://threadsofawakening.com/wp-content/themes/parallelus-traject/images/icons/gravatar1.png
      LeslieRW01-31-12

      So glad it was helpful! Many people find themselves confused about how to handle that drape.

  13. Usha Dutta07-18-12

    Thank you, very helpful. I just got a thanka and did not know how to drape it.

  14. Rob R.08-05-12

    Thank you for this posting! You’ve helped another pair of travelers arrange the silk drape on their thangka.

  15. Dave08-12-13

    Thank you, Leslie. I’ve been able to hang my thangka much more successfully because of your generous step-by-step photos and instructions.

  16. Jerry08-21-13

    Hi Leslie

    I have a gorgeous Tibetan Thangka that was left to me by my uncle. It appears to be late 19th/early 20th century.

    Do you know whom I could consult to learn about it’s age and origins – perhaps you can help?

    Kind regards

    Jerry

  17. Zopa Tarchin05-29-14

    Thanks so much for this post. Having practiced for many years, I just purchased my first Thangka, a hand painted Medicine Buddha Thangka from Kathmandu. I purchased it from a wonderful Tibetan woman in Seattle. She took it down and rolled it up for me asking if I knew how to re-drape the silk cover. Having practiced for so long, I’ve seen many. But have never had the opportunity to re-drape one myself. But ego made me say yes… When I got home and draped it, I went from memory on what it SHOULD look like or how it SHOULD be done. Then I found this post. Turns out I did it right anyway! So thanks for confirming what I thought I understood!

    • http://threadsofawakening.com/wp-content/themes/parallelus-traject/images/icons/gravatar1.png
      LeslieRW05-29-14

      Thank you for this lovely story, Zopa Tharchin. I’m glad my post was able to validate what you already knew from experience. Maybe ego made you say ‘yes,’ but it seems you also had reason to have faith in your own experience. Congratulations!

  18. Bruce Hogge02-10-17

    Thanks so much for the ‘how to’ pictures and video. I bought a beautiful Thanka while touring Bhutan. It’s an old piece…absolutely magnificent. Like others, when I unwrapped it, I found myself scratching my head on how to hang it properly so I would get the proper draping or effect from the silk cover. As one that can’t wrap a Christmas present without it be a big concern, I was a little intimidated on how to properly hang it without it looking orthopedic.

    Well…I am happy to say your instruction made all the difference.

    Many thanks….now awaiting my wife’s return from a trip to show her a surprise valentines gift.

    Bruce

    • http://threadsofawakening.com/wp-content/themes/parallelus-traject/images/icons/gravatar1.png
      LeslieRW02-10-17

      So glad to know my demonstration was helpful, Bruce! What a wonderful gift you’re giving. I hope you and your wife will both enjoy it and be inspired by it for many years.

  19. Jake Young02-23-17

    I was only in Nepal last week and had already forgotten how to fold mine, and I couldn’t find this anywhere else online – very useful indeed! Thank you 🙂

    • http://threadsofawakening.com/wp-content/themes/parallelus-traject/images/icons/gravatar1.png
      LeslieRW02-23-17

      You’re very welcome, Jake! I’m glad it was useful.

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  1. How to Hang a Thangka | Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo03-18-14