Dr. Sarika Singh

A Thangka painter who becomes one with the deity
Thangka Painter
How did you start your journey as a Thangka Painter?
Foundation of Universal Responsibility of His Holiness the Dalai Lama has a project called the Gurukul project, where the students from the Indian universities get a unique chance to come to Dharamshala. Under the Gurukul Project, I got the opportunity to study at the Norbulingka Institute for one month.
I was moved by the training, the meticulous details, the beauty and the divinity involved in the art form and decided to pursue it further. In a private audience with His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, I requested him to allow me to learn at Norbulingka. I requested the foundation to provide me with the opportunity to get myself trained in Thangka Painting from the prestigious Norbulingka Institute. Eventually, with the help of the Foundation, I got admission to Norbulingka, which is how I got started.
Are many people converting to Buddhism to practice Thangka painting?
There’s no need to convert. Buddhism says that you just follow specific paths. You walk on the trail as shown by the Gautama Buddha, the eightfold path and the Four Noble Truths; that’s all, you don’t have to convert.
There is a difference between religion and morality and ethics. While one can live without practising any particular religion, it is impossible to live without morality and ethics. His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, puts a lovely analogy. Religion is like Chai(Tea) that we can make in our own style. Ethics and morality are like water; without water, we will die. So no matter whether we are Christian or Buddhist, we all must practice morality, ethics, compassion, and kindness, all these values. It is the reason why even atheists can live in this world. It’s like a chai; even if you don’t drink Chai, it is okay; no harm done.
To meet a person like him and inherit his kindness, and compassion is fortunate. The same applies when you are drawing a deity, too, right? To inherit his qualities and become one like him.
Yes, the meaning of art is that. But, what does it mean to draw the deity? What is a deity? A deity is someone who has perfected the attributes or the paramis of generosity, love, kindness, determination, morality, wisdom, perseverance, and equanimity. Avalokiteshvara is the bodhisattva of compassion, Majusri is the bodhisattva or embodiment of wisdom, and Buddha is of love, kindness and wisdom. So, when we draw a deity, see or meditate upon him, we try to develop his qualities. When we are completely filled with these qualities, we become one with the deity, or we become the deity, or we become enlightened.
How do you return to your usual self when you finish your painting? What is the process?
We practice non-attachment. You know that you are only a medium through which this deity has to come into the world to benefit humanity and the art, artists, patron, and a newly onlooker. And now your role is over. This act of creating the painting is nothing but devotion to the Divine for which no name, fame, or honour is expected. No names are ever written on these paintings.
Being a Thangka Painter do you think art and artists are sinking with time?
I don’t think so. Art is like a meandering river; it keeps going on. It never stops. It never ceases; it finds its way. With time it combines with something, and it changes its form. But it never dies.
And its value?
The human being is realising its value. So that is why Buddhism and Buddhist art is spreading all over the world.
This interview is from Jam Today Volume One – Himachal. To access the full interview click here.
Click here to learn about the Museum of Himalayan Arts – ‘Centre for Living Buddhist Art’ opened by Dr. Sarika Singh along with her husband, Master Locho