Travel Guide

Yak Butter Sculpture

Butter sculpture is a kind of unique shaping art of yak butter in the Tibetan culture. It is originated from Tibetan Bon religion, holding a history of more than 300 years. Yak butter sculpture is an exotic flower full-blossoming in the freezing point. It is a wonderful work of art mainly made of yak butter. It is completely accomplished at the temperature below zero with a very complicated and also strange molding process.

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Every year in the cold winter, monk artists will choose the yak milk produced in autumns after the grass gets yellow because the yak butter derived from the milk at that time is pure white rather than yellow or brown. Statues made of the yak butter will look as a full moon in its face and with fair and fine skins. Monk artists will pick out the yak butter of good quality soaked in cold water and then rub it for a long time into paste. After removal of impurities, yak butter will turn smoother and more delicate. Before making the butter sculpture, monk artists will take a shower to express their desire and carry out a series of religious ceremonies. After the ceremony, monk artists will gather together to discuss and decide the theme of yak butter sculpture. Afterwards, make a plan of making the butter sculpture and respectively allocate to monks who are good at characters, animals, flowers or architectures, working individually with their own disciples. All the work, in general, start from October 15th to the next January 15th based on the lunar calendar.

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The butter sculpture production is usually divided into four procedures. The first step is to “tie skeleton” according to the content of the theme. Make the processed soft grass bonds, hemp, bamboo sticks, beam and other objects into various shapes of “skeleton” in different sizes, namely the basic model building. The second step is to “make the embryo”. The first material of butter sculpture is to repeatedly beat the old butter sculpture materials with plant ashes in order to make black clay mold with strong toughness and good elasticity. Then, wrap the mold onto the framework to complete a rough but accurate large modelling. Its method is approximate to that of dough modelling and clay sculpture.

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Then, it is followed by the next process-“compressed sculpturing”. The second raw material is to rub varieties of colored mineral pigments in the processed white-paste yak butter to mix them into riotous raw materials of butter sculpture. Carefully apply it onto the already made framework while some of them will be covered with gold powders or silver powders to accomplish a variety of images outline. If to shape flowers and leaves or exquisitely carved jade, they often directly use colored oil to make at once. In order to prevent the yak butter deform because melted by hand temperature, monk artists will create in a workshop at a temperature controlled at zero. Next to them will be placed a basin filled with ice. They will immerse their hands into the ice water from time to time to keep the hand cold. The entire production process is very difficult and most of these monk artists’ hands will have frostbites. However, their piety towards the Buddhism together with their pursuit of perfect beauty has completely beyond the physical pain. The gorgeous yak butter sculptures continuously created in those cold hands.

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The last process is called “loading.” According to the design of the general requirements, install all yak butter sculptures in their right places with iron wire and fix them onto a few large blocks of wood or a special basin, well-proportioned in different levels and each piece is suspended above so that viewers can appreciate form different point of view. Then, layout it into a single flower pattern or a whole story screen, which is commonly known as “Yak Butter Sculptures”. When displayed, the work of art will be stood with a long pole reaching dozens of meters. People standing below and looking up will feel Dharma more solemn and more brilliant. Generally speaking, a large framework will be exhibited a story filled with dozens or even hundreds of characters among which the Bodhisattva Vajra sits serenely, flying fair looks graceful, flowers, birds, insects and fishes seemed extremely lifelike, humans are both appearance and spirit achieved while pavilions and terraces are decorated resplendent. The whole picture looks complex but not chaotic, bright and colorful, inspiring wonders in the beholders.