Tibetan Butter Sculptures — Tsepdro — for Losar

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. 

Tsepdro: tibetan butter-sculptures
Gyuto monks making-tsepdro tibetan butter-sculptures for Tibetan New Year

The most popular designs for the butter sculptures are:

  • flowers
  • 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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Updated on August 5, 2020. First published on February 3, 2016.

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Comments

  1. IX says

    can u tell me a little about the history of tsepdro like when it was made, who started it, when and why? and even the process of making it….thanks in advance….

  2. Fiona M Clements-Russell says

    Losar Tashi Delek, Lobsag and Yolanda!
    As ever, an exquisite post, filled with beautiful, inspirational images and precious insight into Tibetan culture and Buddhism. I cannot explain how much I treasure these wonderful messages from you both, and how important they are to me on my Spiritual path! It really helps me to feel connected and opens my heart to the wisdom and lovingkindness of Tibetan Buddhism…THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SHARING!!! 🙂 May this New Year bring you continued wisdom, peace and joy, and may I humbly ask – please continue to bring us all, wherever we are in the world, these beautiful and precious glimpses of Tibet and Tibetan culture!
    Wishing you both…
    Health, Peace and Light
    Fiona xXx (Scotland, UK)

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