The Four Major Tormas for the 31st Kagyu Monlam
January 7, 2014
By the 8th of December, sixty torma makers have arrived in Bodhgaya from over thirteen monasteries in India and Nepal. They will work until December 20th to make all the tormas (sculpted offerings) needed for the Monlam this year. Five of them are master artists who have been coming for years. Another twenty are making the simpler tormas and decorations of fruits and flowers, while the remaining thirty-five have come to apprentice. In the future, they will be able to assist at the Monlam and, returning to their monasteries, they will share with thousands this beautiful tradition that the Karmapa has revived and inspired into a newly refined and expressive art form.
This year there are two teams: one for the four major tormas and one for the tormas associated with Konchok Chidu (the Embodiment of the Three Jewels), the protector practice of Mahakala, and the Tsechu puja (The Tenth Day Intensive Practice, to be covered in a later report on the Tsechu puja).
This year, at the top of each two-meter torma is a sculpture of a master from one of the four major lineages, making graphic the importance of a nonsectarian view. In their respective order, we find Guru Pemajungne for the Nyingma, Gampopa for the Kagyu, Sakya Pandita for the Sakya, and Je Tsongkhapa for the Geluk.
The central sculpture of each torma depicts a major event from the Buddha's life. They are known as the Four Great Celebrations that highlight the Buddhist calendar. The first is the Buddha's Enlightenment here in Bodhgaya under the Bodhi Tree where the Buddha sits calmly with great presence, his smile just emerging. The second depicts the first Turning of the Wheel of Dharma in Sarnath's Deer Park; encircled by flowers and stylized clouds, the Buddha's attention is clearly focused outward as he begins his long teaching career. The third is the Display of Miracles when, through his meditative power, the Buddha subdued opposing, demonic forces, which here surround his tranquil posture with their contorted, inhuman faces and threats of violence. Finally, the fourth torma depicts the Buddha's Descent from the Realm of Tushita where he went to repay the kindness of his mother by giving teachings to her and the gods residing there. The movement of the Buddha down through space is so animated, one can almost feel the winds of his passing by.
Below these four central images are various kinds of offerings and Dharma articles: the offering of the seven royal articles; the thirteen necessary items for a fully ordained monk; the five sense pleasures, and the seven kinds of jewels. Finally, below these, set in larger circles at the base of each torma, in order, are the eight auspicious symbols combined together in the shape of a vase; Gampopa as he appeared in his famous dream, which Milarepa interpreted to reveal Gampopa's future; the four harmonious brothers (elephant, monkey, rabbit, and bird); and Long Life in Six Aspects, three of which are animate (human being, deer and bird), and three which are inanimate (rock, river, and tree). In Tibet, these are popular expressions of long life and will also be represented in one of the lama dances on the last day of the Tsechu.