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The Ancient Art of Tibetan Butter Sculpting Is Melting Away

For the last 400 years, Tibetan monks have been using butter from yak milk to create large and intricate sculptures inspired by stories of Buddha, animals or plants and putting them on display during the annual Butter Lantern Festival. Unfortunately, the long and difficult process of making these exquisite works of art has led to a shortage of gifted lama artists.

The art of butter sculpting was born from the Tibetan tradition of giving Buddha everything they got from their domestic animals. Nomadic tribes with large herds of sheep and yaks regarded the first butter from each dri (female yak) as the most precious one and offered it to Buddhist monasteries, where monks shaped it into beautiful colored sculptures and offered it to the enlightened ones. The tradition was passed on from generation to generation, and even today, dozens of Tibetan monks work for months on a single giant butter sculpture that must be ready before the 15th of January, the climax of celebrations of the Tibetan New Year, as it mark the triumph of Lord Buddha over his six non-Buddhist teachers who challenged him in performing miracles. During the day, people pray in temples and monasteries, and as the night comes they head to Lhasa’s Barkhor Street to admire the hundreds of artistic butter sculptures, ranging from just a few centimeters in size to several stories high. This colorful display attracts millions of tourists both from Tibet and abroad.

Tibetan-butter-sculpture

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Tibetan Sand Mandalas – The Sacred Art of Painting with Colored Sand

Demolishing sand castles can be great fun. But what if you had spent weeks creating it painstakingly, only to have it destroyed at the end? Heart breaking, isn’t it? But for the monks of Tibet who create exquisite sand paintings, dismantling their work is the only way. This is said to signify the impermanence of life.

Sand Mandala, the art of creating intricate artworks using colored sand, is practiced by Tibetan monks as a part of tantric tradition. In the Tibetan language, the art is called dul-tson-kyil-khor (mandala of colored powders). As a part of the sand mandala, millions of sand grains are laid painstakingly into place on a flat platform. Several monks work on a single piece, which can take days or weeks to complete. The word Mandala means ‘circle’ in Sanskrit and is said to represent the cosmogram of a Buddha or bodhisattva. This could be the monk’s own, or of the one he wishes to appease. The art includes geometric figures and several Buddhist spiritual symbols. A sand-painted mandala is used as a tool for blessing the earth and its inhabitants. It also provides the monk who practices the art a visual representation of the enlightened mind of the Buddha.

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Tibetan Sky Burials Are Super-Creepy

All funerals are sad and creepy, but they’re way better than feeding the corpse to a bunch of hungry eagles.

Sky burials are often practiced in the mountains of Tibet, both for religious and practical reasons. Basically, the corpse is placed on a mountain top and sliced open in various places, to attract the birds of prey circling above. They’d probably feast on it anyway, but an invitation like that doesn’t hurt.

Most Tibetans are Buddhists and believe in rebirth. Once a person dies, their body is considered nothing more than an empty vessels that needs to disposed of. Since the ground is often as hard as rock and wood and fire are precious resources, feeding nature’s creatures is a practical choice. I know it looks grotesque, but to Buddhists this is a last sign of generosity by the deceased, offering his body as nourishment for other living creatures.

Tibetan-funeral

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