SA­CRED CRAFT DWIN­DLES

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By PHUNTSOG TASHI and PALDEN NY­IMA in Lhasa

For most peo­ple, Ti­betan Bud­dhism calls to mind images of grand tem­ples and ex­quis­ite prayer wheels. Few are familiar with the tsa-tsa, a minia­ture fig­ure in the oth­er­wise vast world of Bud­dhism.

Tsa-tsa fig­ures are vo­tive clay images that are de­posited as of­fer­ings within stu­pas, holy caves and monastery al­tars in the Hi­malayas and other sa­cred places. Im­pres­sions in the clay are made with a metal re­verse-im­age en­grav­ing of a hal­lowed de­ity or sa­cred sym­bol. The stamped images are dried in the sun and in some cases fired into the hard­ness of pot­tery.

Ti­betans buy tsa-tsas es­pe­cially dur­ing fes­ti­vals such as Ti­betan New Year, the Yo­gurt Fes­ti­val and the fourth month of the Ti­betan cal­en­dar. she knows, and she chooses to do it as a way to make a living. She hopes her two chil­dren can get a bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion than she had.

She said her work is hard, and she hopes her chil­dren do not fol­low her in her ca­reer.

“This work is al­most as hard as work on a con­struc­tion site. But we do it be­cause we love it,” she said.

Losang and her col­leagues each cre­ate an av­er­age of 200 to 500 tsa-tsas a day.

“The work is done only dur­ing good weather with sun­shine, be­cause it’s eas­ier for the clay to keep its shape,” said Lhamo, 22, an­other tsa-tsa maker.

Dif­fer­ent tsa-tsas show dif­fer­ent deities, images of Bud­dha and stu­pas in five colors — blue, white, yel­low, red and green, rep­re­sent­ing sky, cloud, earth, fire and wa­ter.

“Most Ti­betans or­der Tse Lha Nam Sum — the Three Di­vini­ties of Longevity, which are Ami­tayus, White Tara and Nam­gyalma,” said Losang.

She said peo­ple of­fer di­vini­ties of longevity be­cause they want all sen­tient be­ings to stay healthy and en­joy a long life.

Tsa- tsas sell for one to 10 yuan (16 cents to $1.60) each. If a cus­tomer can­not af­ford the price, there is al­ways a room for ne­go­ti­a­tion.

Lhamo said ma­te­ri­als in­clude Ti­betan rap oil, grain and red clay. “Nor­mally, tsa-tsas have seven dif­fer­ent shapes, such as square, tri­an­gle, round and spiky,” she said.

“Most of our cus­tomers are Ti­betans, but an in­creas­ing num­ber of tourists have be­come our buy­ers in re­cent years,” she said.

Pil­grims to the Nechung Monastery place tsa-tsa tablets in a tsa-khang — a gi­ant nat­u­ral grotto — on a hill be­hind the monastery.

Ital­ian Ti­betol­o­gist Giuseppe Tucci’s book on stupa says the San­skrit root of the word tsa-tsa points to In­dia as a place of ori­gin.

From there, it went to the Mid­dle East and rep­re­sents a sur­vival of an ex­tremely an­cient prac­tice go­ing back per­haps sev­eral thou­sand years, Tucci wrote.

But mem­bers of the new gen­er­a­tion, even very young ones, see other op­tions in mod­ern times.

“I don’t want to learn how to make tsa-tsas. I want to go to school,” said Ten­zin Norbu, Losang’s 5-year- old son, who is in kinder­garten. Con­tact the writ­ers at palden_ ny­ima@chi­nadaily.com.cn.

PALDEN NY­IMA / CHINA DAILY

Losang Choe­dron,

LIANGTING NORYU / FOR CHINA DAILY

The re­verse-im­age

PALDEN NY­IMA / CHINA DAILY

Pil­grim­ages

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