A tangka is a portable religious painting on cloth. Here we feature 48 Himalayan tangkas collected by Walter Koelz for the University of Michigan in 1933 and 1934. The paintings were acquired at 11 Buddhist monasteries and other locations in the Western Himalayas in what are now the Indian states of Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh.
The largest number of the tangkas come from Ladakh. There are also tangkas from Zanskar, Spiti and Kunawar (Kinnaur). Ladakh and Zanskar are within Jammu and Kashmir, and Spiti and Kunawar are part of Himachal Pradesh. The complex political and social history of the region and the beliefs and religious practices of their inhabitants are a product of both local developments and interactions with neighboring Tibet to the east, Nepal to the southeast, the Kashmir Valley to the west, lowland regions of India to the south, and Central Asia to the north.
In this dynamic historical context, Himalayan beliefs and their artistic representation draw upon the diverse religious traditions of the region, including Buddhism, Hinduism, the indigenous Bon religion, and other local religious traditions.
The tangka paintings shown here are part of a larger array of efficacious religious art that also includes murals, sculpture, and other portable objects. Such works served as didactic devices and aided devotees in their religious practice. Since tangkas are portable, and were carried by monks between monasteries and shrines, there is no guarantee that any tangka was actually made at the monastery where it was acquired. Stylistic analysis and dating of the tangkas draw on comparisons with known dated tangka paintings; original wall paintings in situ in dated buildings; identifiable historical analysis within the paintings; the materials used for paintings and borders; and literary references.