Amix of serendipity and intent led photographer Anshika Varma to the Shambhala school for thangka painters in Manali. She had signed up for a workshop with celebrated photographer Ami Vitale. Cultural documentation is considered Vitale’s forte; Varma trod in her footsteps. And she did her homework.
“I had gone there before the workshop to look for possible subjects. There I bumped into the son of the man who runs the school”, she says. The chance encounter led to a conversation, and a visit to the school of thangka painters and Varma’s work of cultural documentation, of which this is an excerpt.
Her photos shine a light into the lives of the boys — the youngest she met was 7 years — who train for five to seven years to become thangka painters. “Painting was secondary to the process. It happened while they were learning Buddhism, spirituality”, she says. The process of making a thangka is a difficult and complex one. At the end of it, the artist almost never signs his piece. He is not expressing his artistic intent and creativity in the thangka. He is passing on a meditative message. Varma says she saw peace in the slow, patient movement of the painters’ brushes.