The making of tsepdro — the kind of Tibetan butter sculpture commonly created at Losar (Tibetan New Year) — is one of the most unusual and beautiful sacred arts of Tibet. We visited the Gyuto Foundation in Richmond, California last weekend to see the local monks creating the delicate, wildly colorful designs made of butter.
The most popular designs for the butter sculptures are:
- tashi dargye: the 8 auspicious symbols
- norbu kagyi: the precious jewel
- thunpa punshi: the 4 harmonious friends (elephant, monkey, rabbit and bird)
- tsering drukor: the 6 elements representing longevity: an old man, river, crane, deer, tree, cliff
- nyima dawa: the sun and moon
The designs are usually constructed on a flat piece of wood in the shape you see here, and placed in piles of tsampa and chemar in a chemar bo, which is a special carved wooden box used on shrines at Losar. (Learn more about the chemar bo in this post on creating a Losar shrine.)
Traditionally, the butter sculptures are made of dri butter (dri is the female of the yak species), but the Gyuto monks have found a kind of butter from Australia that doesn’t melt as easily as normal butter. Usually the monks who make the tsepdro have to constantly dip their fingers and the butter they are working with in icy water to keep it from melting.
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