Making Tibetan Tormas

Ok, so this only marginally has anything to do with painting, but it was pretty cool, and I had great pictures, so I decided to share.

Needing to get out of the studio for a while today, I dropped in unannounced to visit my old friends at the local Tibetan Buddhist center.

Geshe Tenley (the resident monk), was making tormas - traditional Tibetan offering cakes for an upcoming ceremony. He invited me into the kitchen to watch.

First, a large batch of barley meal with a few other ingredients (including to my surprise, scotch - some form of alcohol is always mixed into these cakes) was mixed up and kneaded.

He then rolls and sculpts them by hand into slender conical forms, with a few decorative additions.

As my painterly hands were idle, I got put to work decorating them - the picture below is indeed me at work. The cakes are coated with a glaze consisting of melted ghee (clarified butter), and a lovely deep transparent red. I was told it was an unspecified earth color, but it seemed too transparent.

For some reason that I couldn't really get an answer for, all the brush strokes had to be lifting in an upward motion. The glaze settled into the cake in a very odd way, and also had to be reheated, as the butter cooled and solidified. Even after multiple washings, my hands still smell like movie-theater buttered popcorn.

Finally, they are decorated with white wax roundels and lozenges. These cakes are generally not consumed by humans. My understanding is that after the ceremony, they are set outside so birds and squirrels may eat them, presumably without the wax!

That is how Tibetan tormas are made. All in all, I'm delighted I felt the need to get out of the studio today.