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Plastic Arts

(1) Mural and Tangka

The mural and tangka are considered gems of the world painting art. The mural and tangka of Tibet attach great importance to the purity and order of colors. The yellow, blue, red and green are the most often used colors in these paintings. Each of them has abstruse meanings, strong decorative effect and local flavor. In history, the mural and tangka covered a wide range of topics, including the stories of how a Buddha was born and the transformation of gods, construction process of a monastery, history and legend depicting Tibet��s exchanges with inland areas, production scenes such as hunting and farming, folk customs, entertainment, and Portraits of revered monks, living Buddhas and emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties. So the mural and tangka of Tibet not only reflects a mysterious supernatural state, but also records the daily lives of common people.

Inside the Han Buddha Hall of the Tashilhunpo Monastery, a portrait of the Qing Dynasty Emperor Qianlong is enshrined with two tablets written in Chinese characters saying "Long Live the Daoguang emperor." They reflect the sovereignty of the Chinese Central Government over Tibet in the Qing Dynasty.

Tangka is a transliteration from a Tibetan word, sometimes called "Tangha." It refers to the picture scroll mounted on colorful station. It is a unique kind of painting in Tibet. It is usually vertically long, with no certain size. The picture is first drawn on a white cloth, and then it will be stretched with a frame, pasted, polished, sketched with threads and painted. After that, the picture will be edged with colorful satins and mounted on a cotton or silken cloth. In the front, two pieces of yellow silk bands and two ribbons will be added to be curtain and streamers. Hard wood scrolls are then added to the top and low ends of the picture. A tangka is finished. According to its material and craftsmanship, tangka is divided into three kinds: Painting tangka, textile tangka and printed tangka. The embroidered tangka, brocade tangka (jiandui), tapestry tangka, applique tangka and pearl tangka are especially valuable.


(2) Sculpture

The Tibetan sculptures are divided into stone, wood, mud and metal sculptures. The early stone sculptures were from the Tubo Kingdom. For example, the stone lions in front of the Tombs of Tibetan Kings in Qonggyai, the stone lions and white marble statues in the Sam-yas Monastery. Tsa-tsa refers to a kind of demoulding clay sculpture, usually in small size, but very exquisite. The wood and metal sculptures center in temples, with the most classical ones found in the Potala Palace and the Johkang Monastery. The metal sculptures, with complicated process, often surprise visitors.

Some masks in Tibetan art also belong to sculpture, such as the wood, bronze and clay masks.

(3) Butter figurines

The butter figurines are made from butter mixed with mineral colors, unique in the world plastic arts. The butter is made into the shapes of god, Buddha, common people, flower, grass, tree, bird, beast, pavilions and buildings. As butter doesn't endure heat, it is mainly made in winter. On the 15th day of the 1st month according to Tibetan calendar, numerous butter works will meet the public in front of the Johkang Monastery. It is the largest and most influential Butter Lamp Festival in Tibet.



(4) Cliff painting

Cliff paintings are found in Ritog, Gerze and Ge'gyai counties of Ngari, Nyima County of Ngaqu, Baxo Qamdo as well i County of Qamdo as well as the lakeside of Nam Co. The cliff paintings of Ritog are scattered on dozens of rock groups. The content of these cliff paintings are varied and colorful, mostly depicting the life and production of Tibet in ancient times, including hunting, herding, fighting, sacrificing, immigrating and dancing. They provide the truest and most reliable data for later study of Tibet development. The main ways to make cliff painting are beating, chiseling, polishing and painting. The colors used in painting were mineral ones, mostly red.

In mountains of Rongma area of Nyima County, people will see many cliff paintings left over from primitive times, of which the most famous ones are those in Gyaring Hill.


(5) Fengma (Wind Horse)

In Tibet, people can see everywhere colorful streamers strung on ropes, high poles, roofs, lintels over doors and large colored arrows. They also see small pieces of paper scattered on the ridges of mountain passes. Tibetans call the streamers and paper "Longda" in their own language, with "long" meaning "wind" (or "feng" in Chinese) and "da" meaning "horse" (or "ma" in Chinese). Therefore, these things have got other names such as "Jima" (sacrifice horse), "Luma" (horse to show official rank), and ��sutra streamer,�� ��wish streamer ��or�� fengma streamer. Usually, the streamers are made from cloth and paper, and sometimes with cambric or silk. They are made into either square or rectangular forms, strung together with ropes to give out sounds in the wind, or scattered to everywhere. The typical design on a streamer is a horse in the centre, carrying a treasure giving out flames on its back. On each of the four corners is respectively a gold-wing bird, a dragon, a tiger and a lion. Among the animal images are usually praying words, eulogies or spells. Some streamers are also printed with Buddha figures or other kinds of treasures. Block printing makes the fengma. In the Bon Religion, the fengma is thought to have the power to reach both gods of heaven and earth, thus enabling the communication between human spirits and deities. Today, fengma has developed into a folk custom rather than a way of offering sacrifices to gods.

(6) Grottoes

Tibet boasts several grottoes, the most important ones of which are the Donggar Piyang Grottoes found years ago and the Pharla Lhufo Grottoes situated in Chakpori (Medicine King) Mountain in Lhasa. The Donggar Piyang is the largest Buddhism cave found to date in Lhasa and contains a large number of precious frescoes, filling the gap of ancient Chinese cave art. Donggar is a small village of Zada County. The well-preserved murals mainly gather in three caves halfway up the mountain and the Piyang grottoes are not far away. All the murals, whether depicting human figures or animals and plants, have smooth lines, bright colors and unique forms. They are true to life. The mineral colors are used. The mural subjects range from images of Buddha, Bodhisattva, female gods, protector of Buddha dharma and muscleman, to Buddhism stories, scene of expounding Buddhist doctrine, all kinds of decorative designs and mandala as well as various animals such as the two dragons intertwined, and two phoenixes standing facing each other. The most common design is the vivid and varied flying apsaras. Such kind of grottoes is rarely found in Tibet flying Apsaras. Such kind of grottoes is rarely found in Tibet. Experts determine it has been 1,000 years old and precious in the study of the ancient Guge Kingdom.

The Pharla Lhufo is actually a cave temple. It was dug at the beginning of the Tang Dynasty, during the reign of Songtsan Gambo. The cave is no more than 3 metres high, with the widest point extending to 5 metres, containing 69 stone sculptures. Of them, the most attractive ones are the statues of Songtsan gambo, Princess Wencheng, Princess Tritsun, Gar tongtsan and Thonmi Sambhota. All of them are not taller than 2 chi (67 centimeters). They are believed to be made in the 7th century. The murals provide basis for the study of cliff engravings, clay figurines, murals and tangka.

(7) Engraved statues on cliffs

There are many engravings on cliffs in Tibet. The most famous one is in the Chakpori Mountain. The statues are mainly scattered on the southern cliffs of the mountain. The earliest statue dates back to the 7th century, while people today are still engraving on the cliff. The engraved statues are in various styles and from different periods, but mainly are thousand Buddhas, sometimes Bodhisattva or protector of Buddhist Dharmas. The number of statues exceeds 5,000, topping the cliff engravings in Tibet. The historical and art values are high. Besides, the engraved statues on Rindagdamma cliffs in Chagyab County of Qamdo are also well known. Investigation has shown these statues were carved 1,100 years age, the oldest and the most complete ones in eastern Tibet.

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