A "Thangka," also known as "Tangka", "Thanka" or "Tanka" (Pronunciation: [toːnkoː], the "a" as in the word "water;" the "g" is silent) (Tibetan: ཐང་ཀ་, Nepal Bhasa:पौभा) is a painted or embroidered Buddhist banner which was hung in a monastery or a family altar and occasionally carried by monks in ceremonial processions. In Tibetan the word 'than' means flat and the suffix 'ka' stands for painting. The Thangka is thus a kind of painting done on flat surface but which can be rolled up when not required for display, sometimes called a scroll-painting. The most common shape of a Thangka is the upright rectangular form.
Originally, thangka painting became popular among traveling monks because the scroll paintings were easily rolled and transported from monastery to monastery. These thangka served as important teaching tools depicting the life of the Buddha, various influential lamas and other deities and Bodhisattva. One popular subject is The Wheel of Life, which is a visual representation of the Abhidharma teachings (Art of Enlightenment).
While regarded by some as colorful wall hangings, to Buddhists, these Tibetan religious paintings offer a beauty, believed to be a manifestation of the divine, and are thus visually stimulating.
Thangka, when created properly, perform several different functions. Images of deities can be used as teaching tools when depicting the life (or lives) of the Buddha, describing historical events concerning important Lamas, or retelling myths associated with other deities. Devotional images act as the centerpiece during a ritual or ceremony and are often used as mediums through which one can offer prayers or make requests. Overall, and perhaps most importantly, religious art is used as a meditation tool to help bring one further down the path to enlightenment. The Buddhist Vajrayana practitioner uses the image as a guide, by visualizing “themselves as being that deity, thereby internalizing the Buddha qualities (Lipton, Ragnubs).”
Historian note that Chinese painting had a profound influence on Tibetan painting in general. Starting from the 14th and 15th century, Tibetan painting had incorporated many elements from the Chinese, and during the 18th century, Chinese painting had a deep and far-stretched impact on Tibetan visual art. According to Giuseppe Tucci, by the time of the Qing Dynasty, "a new Tibetan art was then developed, which in a certain sense was a provincial echo of the Chinese 18th century's smooth ornate preciosity." (WIKIPEDIA)