The little Buddhas

Clay tshatshas in a cave near Taba in Thimphu

Clay tshatshas in a cave near Taba in Thimphu

They are in caves and beside lakes, on chortens and near lhakhangs. They are flat or conical. Sonam Rinchen finds out more about tshatshas.

Once seen on every conceivable ledge and crevice along footpaths and around religious sites, tshatshas have now become less known and rare.

Derived from Sanskrit, tshatsha literally means copy or image. A form of Buddhist idol worship, tshatshas are clay impressions cast from a mould with an image of a deity or a sacred symbol engraved into it.

Tshatshas are made to be put inside prayer wheels, statues, chortens and monasteries, or to be laid out in caves, on mountaintops and rooftops, or even to be worn as amulets. Buddhist practitioners say that in Bhutan, tshatsha’s meaning is limited and generally confined to cone-shaped images usually placed in caves and crevices.

Karma Thinley, a lay monk from Lhuentse, said that tshatshas were moulded from the most basic mixture of clay and water to hydro stone (white art plaster) and water. But the most commonly used material was clay.

After moulding them, tshatshas are either left to dry naturally or heated dry. Pigments are added to give them a certain colour. Only after ritually empowered can they be used as holy objects.

Karma said that tshatshas are moulded at home or in a retreat centre to fulfil a religious commitment. They are dedicated either to living or dead.

Gomchen Yeshey from Trashigang said that tshatshas were categorised into different kinds based on the ingredients used to make them.

The most common ones are plain clay tshatshas, which have no ingredients. Ash and bone tshatshas have the remains of lamas or ordinary as the ingredient. Medicine tshatshas contain medicinal herbs.

Water tshstshas are ones symbolically consecrated by dipping them in water while fire tshatshas are those that are consecrated by momentarily putting them in fire.

Rare tshatshas are those that are made from clay soaked in the liquid secretion from the dead bodies of high lamas. Tshatshas are believed to have spread from the north of India across Burma, Thailand and Tibet to Bhutan.

Tshatsha moulds are usually made of bronze or brass. But they are also made from porcelain, paper, or wood.


A lump of clay is stuffed into the mould. Then, a small hole is made into its bottom where nangzung or relics such as grains or scriptures
are put. Next, the clay is pressed uniformly to get a clear impression of the holy image. Its pedestal is shaped by hand.

Ingredients and tools
Blessed grains mantras
Other ingredients

Source: Bhutan Observer

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