Religions take the cast and hue of the cultures in which they find root. This was certainly true in Tibet when Buddhism arrived in the 7th century. It transformed by the native religion of Bon. Of the many creative practices that arose from this synthesis, Tibetan Buddhist music ranks very highly in importance.
Torma (Tibetan: tor ma. Sanskrit: ba lim ta): torma are cone shaped ritual food offerings sculpted in a variety of shapes and sizes, coloured and then adorned with flat circular ‘buttons’ made from butter.Red coloured torma, triangular in shape, are offered to fearsome protector deities such as Mahakala and Shri Devi. Torma are made from barley flour and constructed for several reasons. They are made as special offerings for specific deities on special days. They are sometimes used to represent the subject of an initiation ritual. They are also used as weapons during repulsion rituals such as turning back obstacles during New Years celebrations. They are sometimes depicted in paintings meant to hang in the temples of the wrathful protector deities.Jeff Watt 5-2005
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…
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.
IN MANY CULTURES, SCULPTED BUTTER is an artistic medium, whether as a banquet-hall spectacle or an exhibit at the county fair. But for Tibetan Buddhist monks and laity, artistic butter designs, known as torma or tsepdro, take on a spiritual role.Traditionally made using yak butter mixed with barley flour and coloring, the symbols are either formed on flat boards or made into freestanding sculptures. Since butter is both soft and meltable, makers need delicate hands and cold rooms. They also soak their hands in icy water to keep meltage to a minimum.
“Tor in Tibetan is that which, when the hurricane or tornado comes, the whole city, whole town, after one hour, is totally destroyed, everywhere pieces, all the houses gone, so all the pieces are tor. Or when in a field you plant crops you throw seeds, this is called tor. Or when you give grain, when you give food to birds, you tor, but not so much that, tor is more like the hurricane destroying a city or town, after half an hour, one hour, totally, everything is scattered. Tor is like that, something scattered or destroyed. Tor is more in the sense of destroy. So torma, that which destroys.
“So one meaning of torma is destroying miserliness, your miserliness, so therefore torma are made very rich, the best and richest quality you can make. It means you spend money destroying your miserliness, making a good offering to the deity. So that’s one meaning of tor, that which destroys your miserliness, your attachment.
“Then the other meaning is related also to the maha-anuttara tantric path, where the experience of transcendental wisdom, the great bliss, the voidness, is the real torma. That is the real torma … So then that tor destroys like a bomb; it destroys the root of samsara: the ignorance holding the I, the aggregates, to be truly existent. So the torma is that which destroys that …
“Just one more word, then finish. Why do Tibetans make tormas so beautiful, with decorations and shapes, as beautiful as they can make them? It creates the cause to have beautiful bodies in future lives if you make the tormas very beautiful …”
For the entire article: Lama Zopa Rinpoche Explains Tormas – FPMT
High in the Himalayas, in Bhutan, Tibet, Nepal, and India, and across the steppes of Mongolia, Buddhist monks in medieval monasteries hold sacred festivals once a year, during which they perform 1,300-year-old mystical dances, collectively called cham, in order to transform evil for the benefit of the entire world. The monks meditate for days and even weeks beforehand, visualizing and invoking protective deities. Then they stage elaborate performances during which, visualizing themselves as deities, performing ancient movements, and repeating sacred mantras (invocations), they draw in the evil in the crowd and the surrounding world. The evil is trapped in an effigy, a human body made of dough. At the climax of the ceremony, the dance master (called a chamspon) cuts open the effigy and draws the evil into his own body to show it peace and the path to liberation, thus transforming it. Source: Cham – Core Of Culture
Source: Cham – Core Of Culture