One day an American man visited Norbulingka with his camera. He ended up staying a month, never tiring of the wonders around him, and finally ordered a giant appliqué thangka for his house in California. When he received the thangka, he exhibited it in his home in a central, high ceiling area from which it dominated the interior. The next year he visited again, and expressed unease that he had a beautiful thangka to look at every day, and that Norbulingka, and the people who made his thangka, didn’t. He then proposed to sponsor a thangka for us to keep. We conferred with our thangka master Tenchoe la who began to reflect on what image would best display the prowess of our thangka appliqué team. In the end, we decided on an eleven-meter brocade depiction of the Sixteen Arhats.
We are proud to present this extraordinary appliqué thangka of the Sixteen Arhats, a vivid testimony to an ancient form of art that survives to this day. In Tibet, it is considered highly propitious to visualize Buddha Shakyamuni surrounded by the Sixteen Arhats and an assembly of Bodhisattvas. To do so, not only generates great merit, but serves as a cause to develop insight into the Buddha’s teachings.
Twenty feet tall, it is composed of over 20,000 pieces of silk and brocade hand stitched by artisans at Norbulingka. In old Tibet, most monasteries owned at least one such thangka, which was hung down a special wall facing the monastery, to mark a particular festival. Nowadays, we are the only institution in exile that combines ancient tradition and fine workmanship with the best materials to create these unique pieces of art. It took nearly two years, and many, many meters of silk and Varanasi brocade to complete the work.
After it was completed, it was taken to the US and put on display at a Norbulingka fundraising event in New York. Upon its return to India, it was hung in the Norbulingka temple - Deden Tsuglagkhang, where it remains to this day, Norbulingka’s pride and joy.