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Tibetan New Year: Butter sculptures are offered to the Buddha
update:February 22,2023
Today is the first day of the New Year in the Tibetan calendar. Making sculptures of butter is one of the New Year Buddhist rituals observed in every household. Our reporter GUO TIANQI talked to a Tibetan folk artist to learn about the profound meaning.
During the Tibetan New Year, every household will put a special Mche Mar box before a Buddha statue, with colorful highland barley and other decorations on it. But the most attractive item in every home, is the exquisite butter sculpture.
Flowers are important items to worship Buddha, but the winter is not the right season for them. About 600 years ago, Tibetan people learned how to add different pigments to butter, their everyday item, to carve into religious figures, flowers, and animals.
SIQU ZHANDUI is making a traditional pattern called four auspicious animals.
SIQU ZHANDUI Butter Sculpture Artisan "The birds at the top bring seeds, and the forests grow, and then the rabbit and monkey came, after that, the habitats grow large enough to support the elephant, so it's a symbol of peace and unity."
GUO TIANQI Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region "Although it looks simple, sculpting butter is very difficult to master and requires precise techniques to shape the smooth and delicate material. Butter sculptures have to be kept cold, so they don't melt, and the sculptor needs to constantly dip their hands in cold water."
Even just trying it, my hands are freezing. Making a pair of delicate butter sculptures, can take a whole day. It's a complete test of will. In order to make the sculpture more consistent with the legend or story, the sculptor also needs to keep inner peace while enduring physical challenges.
SIQU ZHANDUI Butter Sculpture Artisan "When making it, I'm thinking of good wishes in my mind, this year I send many butter sculptures to my friends, and I hope it can bring them peace and happiness."
The Buddhist meaning of butter sculpture is not just in the spirit. Tibetan Buddhism believes in reincarnation. Some believe this easily damaged sculpture, reflects the short life of human beings. However, butter sculptures still need to be exquisitely made, just like our life, in a limited time, and we can still give profound meanings through our endeavors. GUO TIANQI, CGTN, Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region.

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