The following article by Karma Phuntsho is from the Mandala Collections website hosted by the University of Virginia, and is an excellent overview and explanation of tormas. Karma Phuntsho is the President of the Loden Foundation and the author of many books and articles including The History of Bhutan.
Torma (གཏོར་མ་) refers to the dough and butter sculptures that are made for religious purposes in Bhutan and the Buddhist Himalayas. Based on the Indian Buddhist concept of bali, a tribute, gift or offering one makes to deities and spirits, the making and offering of torma are common features of Buddhist rituals and practices in Bhutan. Torma culture is also well known in the Bon religion of Tibet. Scholars explain the etymology of torma by explaining that tor (གཏོར་) refers to casting away all impurities and negativities or giving away without stinginess to all sentient beings with the love like that of a ma (མ་) or mother. The syllable ma is said to symbolize the attainment of the experience of emptiness and bliss. Continue reading…
Source: Torma: Ritual Offerings | Mandala Texts
Beneath the brilliant image of the Buddha stretches a 50-foot, three-tiered altar of tormas (sculpted offerings), pyramids of incense, and heaps of fruit and sweets. This year, the eight tall tormas on the top row depict the main figures of the Eight Great Founders of the Practice lineages, brought from India to Tibet: for the Nyingma, Guru Rinpoche; for the Kadampa, Jowo Atisha; for the Path and Fruition of the Sakya, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo; for the Kagyu, Marpa Lotsawa; for the Shangpa Kagyu, Khyungpo Naljor; for the Jonangpa, Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen; and for the Nyendrup (Approach and Accomplishment) of the Three Vajras, Drupthop Urgyenpa. Indicating great respect for each of these eight lineages and their founders, beneath each one, depicted on two disks and on the base of the torma are one each of the eight auspicious symbols, the eight auspicious substances, and the 7 seven kinds precious metals and jewels plus one of gemstones in general. Two colorful offering goddesses from the tradition of Chakrasamvara flanked each of the eight great teachers.
Source: The Karmapa Attends the Kagyu Monlam in North America for the First Time | Karmapa – The Official Website of the 17th Karmapa