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Xining Shi, China

The Great Thangka

Stretching almost 2,000 feet, this painting is one longest pieces of Buddhist artwork in the world. 

China’s Tibetan Medicine and Culture Museum is one of the country’s few museums dedicated entirely to Tibetan culture, history, and religion. It also contains a magnificent artistic treasure.

A nearly 2,000-foot-long thangka (a religious Buddhist painting) wraps around the interior walls of its second floor. The painting is one of the longest thangkas in the world. More than 400 Tibetan artists spent almost 30 years finishing the masterpiece.

Thangkas (also spelled tangkhas) are usually kept rolled up, but this one is stretched for all to see. The colorful blend of religious figures and events creates a visually stunning tapestry of Buddhist knowledge. It’s divided into a continuous and contiguous set of scenes blending one into the other. The thangka shows the entire Tibetan history, the history of Tibetan Buddhism, and famous Buddhist monks, temples, and events. It also depicts the creation of the world, astronomy, technology, science, medicine, architecture, linguistics, and poetry.

You’ll also find scenes showing the creation of humankind, with organisms crawling out of the oceans and evolving into human beings. Another segment portrays a contemporary lama that travelled to the United States, which includes images of an airplane and the American flag. The absence of the current Dalai Lama is also notable.