DEFINITION OF TORMAS
Why is this film necessary and important? What makes it intriguing? Butter sculpture is a colorful, luminous, and complex art form that is unique to Tibetan Buddhist culture. It has many parallels with the sand mandala but so far, very little has been documented. Butter sculpture belongs to a class of offerings called tormas (gtor-mas), which are intimately connected with the ritual practices of Tibetan Buddhism. Gtor literally means to “scatter” or “throw” a small number of things or pieces. The torma is traditionally tossed outside after being used in a ritual, both to symbolize impermanence and to develop the practice of generosity.
THE ORIGIN OF TORMAS
Tormas originated in the Indian Buddhist scriptures but developed a distinctly Tibetan character after Buddhism was transmitted to Tibet in the 8th through 12th centuries. Originally adopting elements from the pre-Buddhist shamanic practices of the indigenous Tibetan culture, these sacred sculptures further evolved through the visionary experiences of such enlightened Buddhist masters as Padmasambhava and the Gyalwang Karmapa. As such, tormas are an integral part of Tibetan tantric culture and in their own way as important as thangkas and statues.
BUTTER SCULPTURES IN LHASA
Butter sculptures are a specific type of torma that were used as centerpieces for large prayer gatherings, such as the Great Prayer Festival in Lhasa, started by Tsongkhapa in 1409. Because of its availability and highly elastic qualities in the cold Himalayan climate, Tibetans found butter to be an ideal material for sculpting and made exquisite carvings of flowers, fruits, jewels, and auspicious symbols. This unique, artistic tradition was highly revered in Tibet and is being continued to this day by the monastic refugee community in India. In particular, butter sculptures are an integral part of the Kagyu International Prayer Festival, which is held annually in Bodhgaya, India.
(photo by Filip Wolak)