North American Kagyu Monlam Torma Report

While preparations for the first North American Kagyu Monlam were underway, some of the highly-trained torma artist monks and nuns, who had been documented and interviewed by the Torma Film crew in 2008 and 2009, were invited to Karma Triyana Dharmachakra (Woodstock, New York) to make the butter sculptures for the NAKM. One of the Kagyu Monlam umdzes, Sonam Paljor, from Rumtek Monastery, was also invited to KTD to lead the chanting.

As monlam preparations progressed, the lamas and staff at KTD were disappointed to learn that the torma artists were denied visas to enter the U.S. Only the umdze, Sonam Paljor, was able to obtain a visa. The KTD administration, under the direction of Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, hastily assembled a crew of North American-based torma-makers to prepare the butter sculptures.

Though none of these lamas had taken part in the formal training in India for making the Kagyu Monlam butter sculptures, they were able to view a one-hour video, prepared by the Torma Film crew, detailing the step-by-step process the Tibetan artists had developed to create their magnificent butter sculptures for the International Kagyu Monlam in India.

The torma crew was spearheaded by Tibetan artist, Lama Karma Chopal, currently based in Charlottesville, Virginia; Lama Tashi Dondup from Toronto, Canada; and umdze Sonam Paljor from Sikkim, India. KTD resident teacher Khenpo Urgyen and several lamas from KTD and Karme Ling Retreat Center including Lama Karma Drodul, Lama Tsultrim, Gelongma Lama Lodro Lhamo, Gelongma Karuna Tara, and Yeshe Wangmo rounded out the torma team. KTD cabinet maker, David Fisher, made the gyentras (wooden plaques for mounting the torma ornaments) and Lama Tashi’s student Andrey Hervartin from Toronto assisted the torma team.

Below is a photo gallery of the entire torma-making process at KTD this past week, from the beginning through the completion of the shrine set-up on Sunday.

The tormas consist of ingredients easily found in North America. The dough was made of quick oats and “the three whites and three sweets,” (butter, milk, yogurt, honey, molasses, and sugar).

The wax-butter for the ornaments was made from butter, beeswax, and tempera paint.

(photos by Yeshe Wangmo)

NAKM tormas set up on the KTD shrine.

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