February 18: Traders have not been able to perform well this year even during the peak season of ‘thangka’ business. The time period between September to November and February to April is considered the best season for the business of thangka, an intricate painting depicting different gods of Buddhism.
“During this season, I used to sell thangkas of around Rs 900,000 to one million in a month. But at present, the sale is scarce,” says Maila Ghising, who has been operating Maitreya Thangka Art Gallery in Bouddha.
The situation of Binod Ghising is no different from that of Maila Ghising. Binod, the proprietor of Heritage Thangka Gallery at Swoyambhu, says, “The thangka business has declined by 90 percent due to the impact of coronavirus.” He further informed that the meditation practitioners, devoted followers of Buddism, and few who wish to gift thangka to their relatives and friends are their only customers at present.
According to the data provided by the Federation of Handicraft Association of Nepal (FHAN), thangkas worth Rs 16.5 million were exported in the Fiscal Year 2019/20, which is comparatively 75 percent less than in FY 2018/19. Thangkas amounting Rs 65.3 million were exported in 2018/19, according to the data.
Thangkas, which are usually painted on canvas of cotton and silk by using natural pigments, crayons, acrylic color and gold and silver, costs anything between Rs 150 to over a million rupees. Traders say that the price of the thangka depends of the quality rather than the size.
Surendra Bhai Shakya, president of the federation, says not even 20 percent of thangkas have been exported this year.
“As the sales of thangka is directly associated with tourism, the sales have declined with the decline in arrival of tourists,” he says. As soon as the tourism business improves the situation of thangka and the whole handicraft sector will improve, he says expressing some hope.
At present, the thanka producers have been relying on local market to sustain their business. “Since the export of thangka is nil, we are dependent on domestic market,” says Ghising. However, due to the lockdown, the purchasing capacity of people has decreased which has, again, impacted the thangka industry.
Thangkas are exported in countries like the United States, China, Japan, India, Germany, Thailand, Bhutan, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Taiwan, among others.