Paubha is a traditional religious painting made by the Newars of Nepal, mainly those from Kathmandu Valley. Paubhas depict deities, mandalas or monuments, and are mainly used to help the practitioner meditate. The paubhas are also knnown as Thangka in Tibetan language. But there are some significant differences between Newari Paubhas and Thangka.
A Paubha of Amitabha Buddha at the Los Angeles County Museum is believed to be the earliest specimen is to have been done in the 11th century (Nepal Sambat 485). It is a specimen of the skill of Newar artists that made them sought-after throughout the Himalayan region and as far as China. Newar artists and merchants took the Paubha art to Tibet from which the Tibetan Thangka evolved.
The paint is made from minerals and plants. Gold and silver paint are also used on Paubhas. The eyes of the deity are painted when the rest of the painting has been completed, and is known as ‘opening the eyes’. Brocade is sewn to the edge of the Paubha to make a frame for display.
From a composition perspective, the surface of Paubha is usually occupied of a large figure in the centre that is placed inside a shrine and surrounded by smaller relevant figures on the sides; the background is usually filled in with natural elements such as rocks rendered in abstract patterns. The colour is often deep and subdued with subtle shadings of the figures and exquisite renderings of details that are the hallmarks of early Nepalese Paubhas.
Paubhas are painted on a rectangular piece of canvas. It is prepared by applying a mixture of buffalo glue and white clay on it. The surface is then rubbed with a smooth stone to give it polish. The painting is done according to the rules and dimensions handed down by tradition, and artists cannot exercise their creativity. In ancient times, Paubha artists do not make a signature in the creations. As such, old art pieces are remained as done by unknown artists.
Most Paubhas show Buddhist subjects, but a few have Hindu themes as well. The paintings are made to earn religious merit both for the artist and the patron. Newar Buddhists commission artists to paint Paubhas which are displayed during festivals and other special occasions. The traditional painters of Paubhas are the Chitrakars also known as Pun in Nepal Bhasa. Bajracharyas, Shakyas and other caste artists also paint Paubhas. In the modern times Paubha painting has taken modern styles as well. New generation artists are well to do modern type of Paubhas.
Artist Lok Chitrakar, born in 1961, is a prominent Paubha artist. The self-taught artist is displaying some 14 brilliant Paubha paintings at Museum of Nepalese Art (MONA) at the premises of Kathmandu Guest House in Thamel, Kathmandu. Two large size Paubha and 12 small size paintings are hanged for exhibitions.
Artist LokChitrakar started teaching himself the intricate art of Paubha painting when he was just 12 years old. Critics mention that Chitrakar has introduced the unique Nepali art form to people living all across the globe.
Moreover, he has exhibited his master piece ‘works’ in countries such as Pakistan, Finland and Japan, USA. The Kanzouin Museum in Tokyo holds 125 of his Paubha paintings on permanent display.Kanzouin Mandala art Museum (Tokyo, Japan), State Museum of Religion (St Petersburg, Russia), Mohatta Palace Museum (Karachi, Pakistan), Kemi Museum of Arts (Kemi, Finland), Yushoji Temple (Saitama, Japan) and Shinnyoen Temple (Tachikawa, Japan) also had collected Chitrakar’sPaubhas.
In the past, Chitrakar had exhibited around a dozen solo exhibitions in Nepal and abroad. Likewise, he had shared more than 35 group exhibitions. He had bagged a number of awards and medal. Government of Nepal had conferred him with National Talent Award in 2013 in appreciation of his contribution in fine art is one of them. Chitrakar along with his assistants runs Simrik Atelier in Patan (Lalitpur). He is well known teacher for imparting Paubha painting skill as well.