Bhutans religion | Buddhism | The Buddhist ritual | Ritual dough figures
Metal torma Zoom

Ritual dough figures

The gods of the Himalayas take on material bodies in many shapes. Next to statues and paintings, believers often offer them artistically made bodies, usually made of dough and butter. Less frequently, these torma* are made of precious metals.

In the torma* a deity takes his seat to be present at a ritual. After the ceremony has ended, he is released from this form by a lama with a specific ritual technique.

Apart from the representation of a deity, a torma* can also serve as sacrifice for a specific deity or it can be used for driving out evil spirits according to a ritual. The wangtor or initiation torma, on the other hand, embodies the deity itself and realises initiation as soon as the teacher has placed it on the disciple's head. Other torma*, again, serve for feeding the gods.

Each deity has its own kind of representation, which is marked by form and colour. In this way, white, cone-shaped torma* stand for peaceful deities; angry deities, on the other hand, are represented by red, triangular shapes.

Triangular torma*, usually coloured in red, are often used as weapons. On the ninth, 19th and 29th days of the month they are hurled away at cross-roads to chase away evil spirits. The precise moment as well as the direction have been fixed beforehand by astrologers.

The materials, shaping and way of making torma* partly complies with what is regionally available. In Bhutan the dough figures are usually formed out of barley flour and boiled rice, sometimes adding the »Five Precious Metals«, the »Five Kinds of Corn« or the »Six Aromatic Substances«. Adding the »Five Corns« is meant to drive away poverty and hunger, while the »Six Aromatic Substances« take effect against illness and epidemics. In order to gain specific powers, three white substances (such as butter, milk and cheese) or three sweet ones (such as sugar, honey and molasses) are added.




Every year, on the 29th day of the last month, the torma* are ceremonially destroyed in many temples, monasteries and monastic castles, partly accompanied by dancing. These torma* contain all the unhappiness and evil of the community, and together with them all that was negative in the previous year is destroyed.

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Usually, torma are made of roasted barley flour and decorated with patterns of butter. Their forms and colours depend on the evocated deities and the purpose of the action.
Photo by Christian Schicklgruber

Torma (tshetor), silver with partial fire-gilding, corals, turquoise; 19th century; H: 38 cm, L: 19,5 cm; loan from the Paro Dzong
Sacrificial offering, which should give a long life. It is decorated by, amongst others, the eight Buddhist symbols of happiness and in the circular upper part the nuclear syllable hrih, of Amitayus*, is written in Lanza script. By reciting this syllable, Amitayus* takes on shape from the area of shapeless emptiness. On the top, there are the sun and the moon as symbols for wisdom and method.

Each Buddhist school has its old traditions on how to make torma*, which are so deeply engrained that a lama can immediately tell, when looking at the figure, which school and ritual it belongs to.
Drawing by Mynak Tulku