It’s Not So Obvious: a lesson in the need for explanation
I recently lent my Green Tara thangka to a dharma center to decorate their hall during a teaching. It was an honor seeing the thangka on the wall behind the lama as he shared his precious wisdom. And it filled me with joy to know that this thangka will one day reside in the dharma hall of the Tibetan Meditation Center in Escondido, where it will accompany many profound teachings.
When the session was finished, I helped the organizers to take down the thangka so that I could carry it home. I had not participated in the set-up and was surprised to find that the thangka had been suspended by the fine string made for holding the silk drape, rather than by the robust straps intended for the purpose. Fortunately, no harm was done. But this experience made me realize how easy it is to assume that others know what we, in our unique experience, have learned. It’s not at all obvious how to hang a thangka — nor how to roll it up for transport, nor how to arrange the silk drape. Some explanation might be useful.
Thangka conservator Ann Shaftel provides a useful diagram of the parts of a thangka in her insightful article, Intent, In Tents and Intense. (Several of Ann’s articles are also available in Italian here.)
Not every thangka will exhibit all these parts.
For example, many do not contain the “door” in the lower part of the brocade mounting.
I have omitted the dangling silk ribbons on my more recent thangkas.
And sometimes the cords from which to hang the thangka will be replaced by a string at the back or top of the upper dowel. This is what confused the organizers of that recent teaching where my Green Tara was displayed. Their other thangkas had such a string, whereas I had never seen thangkas without the dual-purpose cords which serve alternately for hanging the thangka and for keeping it rolled up.
How to Hang a Thangka
Now for the explanation you’ve been waiting for:
Assuming your thangka has the standard cords or straps that keep a rolled-up thangka rolled up, unwrap these and tie them together (as shown at the top of the diagram above). I suggest tying in a bow rather than a knot, to facilitate later untying and re-rolling.
Place one hook or nail in the wall at a height which will place the heart of the deity above your eye level. As a sign of respect and to enhance the inspirational quality of the image, you’ll want to look upwards to it.
Hang the tied cords (or, in their absence, the string at the back or top of the upper dowel) over the nail.
Let the thangka unroll slowly, controlling its fall with your hands.
When the thangka is fully extended and level, gather the silk cover in your hand and tuck it under the string or fine cord at the front of the upper dowel, creating a decorative flourish. My next “how-to” post will describe in illustrated detail how to arrange this cover drape.