Photo of Torma Offerings on the 15th night of Monlam Chenmo, Tibet 1921

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:

Glimpses of Bodhgaya

Take a brief tour of Bodhgaya, India. This short was filmed in the winter of 2008-09 and the sights depicted include the Mahabodhi Stupa and surrounding park, Mucalinda Lake, the Buddha statue near the Japanese Temple, Shechen Monastery, and the Thai Temple. Photography: Ko Jung-Fa; Music courtesy of Kevin MacLeod.

The tormas created for the 26th Kagyu Monlam commemorate the great masters of all four lineages

Here is an excerpt from a talk given by the Gyalwang Karmapa in Bodhgaya in 2009 where he discussed the tormas:

“Also, we have expanded a number of the features of the site where we are holding the twenty-sixth Kagyu Monlam, including the main gates and so forth, and I thought it would be good to briefly point out what the tormas represent. The main decorative tormas are those with images of Marpa, Milarepa, and Gampopa on the right, and on the left, those with images of the forebears of the Nyingma school of the early translations, the glorious Sakya lineage, and the Gelukpa order.

The main principle these tormas illustrate is that when we consider the Tibetan Buddhist teachings, there are basically no lineages that are not mixed with the others. When the three Dharma kings Songsten Gampo, Trisong Deutsen, and Tri Ralpachen first established the Dharma in Tibet, the lineage that emerged at that time became known as the “Nyingma school of secret mantra.” Thus the Nyingma was Tibet’s first Buddhist lineage. Later on, during the reign of King Langdarma, the teachings were wiped out of Tibet, and the later propagation of the teachings began. That is the difference between the Nyingma and Sarma vajrayana schools.

Then the oral lineage of the Kadampa masters was passed down from the glorious Atisha, and the Sakya, Kagyu, and Geluk lineages successively appeared. The stages of the teachings of all of these lineages, along with their basic starting points, are the same. The different individual lineages arose out of different lineages of lamas and instructions, but fundamentally there is not even a single lineage that is not mixed with the others. In sum, all Tibetan lineages have been passed down intermingled with the others—all of them share Dharma connections and connections of samaya….”

“Therefore the presence of images of the root and lineage gurus from all of the Tibetan Buddhist lineages here today means that all Tibetan Buddhist lineages are nothing other than the teachings of the Buddha: They are all the same….”

For the entire teaching see link below:

A Talk on the Relationship between Masters and Disciples

January 04, 2009, By 17th Gyalwang Karmapa

Translated by Tyler Dewar, Karma Choephel, and Ven. Lhundup Damchö for Monlam English Translation Network.

Karmapa and Rinpoches at the Kagyu Monlam Chenmo in Bodhgaya, January 2009

Here are some great photos of His Holiness and Kagyu Rinpoches taken at the Kagyu Monlam Chenmo in 2009, while we were filming there. These photos were taken by cinematographer Ko Jung-Fa.

The 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje presides over the Kagyu Monlam, January 2009.
His Eminence Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche
Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, Kalu Rinpoche and Mingyur Rinpoche
His Eminence Gyaltsab Rinpoche (l) and Venerable Thrangu Rinpoche (r)
Kalu Rinpoche (r) and Mingyur Rinpoche (l)
Venerable Thrangu Rinpoche

Tormas and Lama Dances at Benchen Monastery in February, 2010

The large, triangular, red torma (l) and the black “activity aspect of the protector” torma (r) were placed beside each other in the shrine room for the duration of the Mahakala pujas. Once the dances started, they were brought outside separately on consecutive days. The first dance, from a vision of the 5th Karmapa, Deshin Shekpa, involved the red triangular torma. The second day’s dance called The Black Hat Dance, featured the black torma. Each torma was burned in a bonfire at the end of the day’s dance.

Straw tent prepared each day for torma.
After the torma is placed inside, the straw tent is set on fire.
The torma goes up in flames.

The Dorje Lopon (Vajra Master) sits amidst the skeleton dancers.
Kyabje Tenga Rinpoche watches the dance from his balcony.

At one point, a large thangka of the wisdom protector "Bernachen" is unfurled near Kyabje Tenga Rinpoche's balcony.
Cinematographer Ko Jung-Fa filming the dance.
Cinematographer Cynthia Chao filming the dance from a rooftop balcony.

What is a torma?

Tor literally means to “scatter” or “throw” a small number of things or pieces.  The suffix ma means “mother” and implies compassion. A torma is an offering traditionally tossed outside after use in a ritual, both to symbolize impermanence and to develop the practice of generosity. But a torma is not only a ritual offering; it can function in a variety of other ways, for instance, as a physical representation of either the wisdom or activity aspect of a deity.

Filming at Benchen Monastery in Nepal

In February 2010, the Torma film crew met at Benchen Monastery in Swayambhu, Nepal and filmed an interview with Venerable Tenga Rinpoche, the Dorje Lopon (Vajra Master) of the Karma Kagyu Lineage. We also documented monks working on the tormas for the elaborate Mahakala protector rituals and dances held annually before Losar.

Here are some photos of a Mahakala torma that represents the activity aspect of the protector:

Monk sculpts image out of dough.

Monk applies black paint to the face.
Pink, white, red, and yellow colors are added.

The head is adorned with a crown of skulls.

This torma in the shape of a head (left) represents the activity aspect of the protector deity.
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