His Holiness Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, discusses the origins and diversity of torma shapes and colors for the film Torma: The Ancient Art of Tibetan Butter Sculpture. Filmed in Bodhgaya, India, in 2008-09 by cinematographers Ko Jung-Fa and Cynthia Chao.
In this clip, Lama Gelek, the chopon from Mirik Monastery, is shown making a tool for sculpting butter tormas for the Kagyu Monlam in Bodhgaya. The wood he is using to carve the tool is called “geepshing” and comes from Bhutan. This special wood is naturally saturated with a resin that doesn’t stick to the wax butter, allowing for a smoother sculpting experience.
Monks and nuns worked hard to prepare the materials necessary for making butter sculptures for the International Kagyu Monlam in Bodhgaya, India. This footage was shot in 2008 by Ko Jung-Fa and Cynthia Chao and depicts the fourth stage in the laborious four-part process of preparing wax butter for sculpting butter tormas.
After the pastry margarine is thoroughly kneaded into the wax butter, oil colors are added to create the color palette.
Monks and nuns worked hard to prepare the materials necessary for making butter sculptures for the International Kagyu Monlam in Bodhgaya, India. This footage was shot in 2008 by Ko Jung-Fa and depicts the third stage in the laborious four-part process of preparing wax butter for sculpting butter tormas.
After the wax butter (or margarine) mixture has been thoroughly kneaded, a new element is introduced: pastry margarine. This is added to the wax butter mix to refine the texture of the final product. The pastry margarine must be vigorously kneaded into the wax butter until completely blended.
After the mixture in the pans has completely cooled and hardened, monks and nuns scrape off fine shavings and knead thoroughly. (see video clip below)
Monks and nuns worked hard to prepare the materials necessary for making butter sculptures for the International Kagyu Monlam in Bodhgaya, India. This footage was shot in 2008 by Ko Jung-Fa and depicts the first stage in the laborious four-part process of preparing wax butter for sculpting butter tormas.
Butter (or margarine) is melted in a large pot. Slabs of wax are added to the pot and thoroughly melted. Then the liquid wax-butter is poured into metal trays to cool and harden.
“Lama, Patron, Artist: The Great Situ Panchen,” on view March 13 through July 18 at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, offers a fresh approach to Tibetan painting by bringing to the foreground the remarkable life story of the great artist-scholar Situ Panchen Chokyi Jungne 1700-1774. Paintings, sculptures and illuminated manuscript pages from the 12th to the 19th centuries represent Situ’s life and greatest artistic achievements. Originally organized by the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City, the exhibition is based on new research conducted by David Jackson, a leading scholar of Tibetan culture and history. Jackson and his co-organizer, Rubin curator Karl Debreczeny, chose an innovative path for this first Western exhibition on Situ, approaching the paintings as historical documents and delving deeply into his diaries, journals and other primary sources. The portrait that emerges reveals a brilliant polymath who changed the course of Tibetan painting and made significant contributions to the literary arts, medicine and diplomacy of 18th-century Tibet.
My favorite part of the Kagyu Monlam daily program in Bodhgaya is when His Holiness, the 17th Karmapa puts on his Black Hat and recites the Monlam Chenmo, or the Great Aspiration. This is a profound prayer written by the 7th Karmapa, Chodrak Gyamtso. Here is an excerpt:
“May all the deaf in all world-realms acquire the ears of the devas.
May the blind acquire the pure eyes of the devas.
May the mute gain eloquent speech.
May the insane gain sanity.
May every person gain a good appearance, eloquent speech, brilliant intelligence, and all praiseworthy qualities….”
“May I be like a father, a mother, a friend, a relative, and a king for all beings. Like medicine, food, clothing, and so forth; like earth, water, fire, air and space, may I become a support for the lives of all beings.”
—The Kagyu Monlam Book
A Compilation for Recitation
View a brief clip of His Holiness reciting this prayer:
Rare torma photo taken in Lhasa, 1921 by Rabden Lepcha (?) from the collection of Sir Charles Bell. From the Tibet Album on the Pitt Rivers Museum Website–they have a fascinating stock of old photos taken in Tibet by Rabden Lepcha, Sir Charles Bell, Hugh Richardson, and others, including some photos of torma and torma-related rituals. To view the photo at their website: