The great calligrapher and scholar Thönmi Sambhota was historically responsible for developing the foundation of the Tibetan writing systems in the seventh century A.D, which form the basis of the Tibetan language today.
In this thangka, Thönmi Sambhota is shown as the main figure wearing traditional attire of a Tibetan layperson, though he wears a white turban in reference to his many years spent in Northern India studying chiefly Sanskrit with Brahmins and Pandits.
He holds in his lap a tablet inscribed with a rendition of a Mani mantra, oṃ maṇipadme hūṃ, which was presented to Dharmaraja King Songtsen Gampo as the first sample he created of the Tibetan Uchen script. The original writing of this mantra was carved on a rock in Rigsum Gompo temple in central Tibet, which was unfortunately destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.
On a table before Sambhota are laid out calligraphy implements such as ink and bamboo pens, cut from the bamboo grove behind him. Tibetan manuscripts also sit before and behind referring to Sambhota’s scholarly achievements and the Tibetan grammar and punctuation he composed.
Emanating from Sambhota on rainbow beams are two golden disks marked with the letter Aa, the last letter of the Tibetan alphabet, which is also considered the essence and expression of the entire alphabet in one. On the left is Aa in the classical Uchen script and on the right is the same letter Aa in the Umed class of scripts. These represent the two main groups of script styles he created and still in use to the present day.
To Sambhota’s below right is a student in practice of calligraphy, while above is a scene of nature, more typical of the Karma Gadri style of thangka painting, with trees and a cascading waterfall bringing prosperity. In the far distance are five mountains of Manjushri, the deity of learning, or which can also represent the five Wisdom Buddha families. In the sky above is Sakymuni Buddha, who crowns Thönmi Sambhota, representing his Buddhist belonging and motivation to benefit all.