About Tsa-Tsa

In Buddhism, Dharma Teachings, Video by Tsony

Tsatsa (also tsa-tsatsha-tsha) is a small sculptural votive offering used in Tibetan Buddhism. They are normally small plaques with decoration in relief, made in moulds with clay or rammed earth, but sometimes other materials such as metal may be used.[1] They descend from similar Indian plaques made for pilgrims to Buddhist pilgrimage sites such as Bodh Gaya.[2]

In Bhutan the usual shape is a small chorten or stupa, also sometimes seen in Tibet, where it is a special funerary form.[3]

Images of Earth and Water: The Tsa-Tsa Votive Tablets of Tibet
by Juan Li,

November 11, 1995

In 1938 after returning from one of his extensive expeditions to Ladakh and Western Tibet, the great Italian tibetologist Giuseppe Tucci published a volume on Stupa symbolism as part of the Indo-Tibetica series. The second part of this pioneering study is dedicated to the votive clay tablets known as tsa-tsa. Although Tucci was not the first to write about tsa-tsa, his study remains the only extensive exploration of this art form. The present article aims at updating some the information on this neglected area of studies.

Any traveller who ventures today into a remote area where Buddhism is practiced in the Himalayas, Ladakh or Tibet is certain to come across examples of clay tablets deposited within stupas, holy caves, and monastery altars. These clay tablets are generally known as tsa-tsa; a name, which Tucci traces back to Sanskrit.

The Sanskrit root of the name points to India as the probable country of origin of tsa-tsa. Well known in Indian Buddhist monasteries, the ancestors of clay medallions, however, may go back to the Middle East and represent a survival of an extremely ancient practice going back perhaps several thousand years.

Tsa-tsa are clay impressions made with a metal mold containing the hollowed, reversed image of a deity or sacred symbol. The stamped images are dried in the sun and in some cases fired into hardness 

Especially large tsa-tsa are sometimes colored and varnished and may be empowered by inserting a roll of prayers or mantras in a hollow space at the base. They may be empowered also by printing or writing a mantra on the back. Thereafter the tsa-tsa is treated no differently from other sacred images. Through auspicious action ordinary clay becomes transformed into a receptacle for sacred power. Tsa-tsa are sometimes produced in connection with a pilgrimage to sacred places. A traveller carries the metal mold and, upon reaching a sacred site, collects holy clay to stamp images. Reciting mantras all the time as the clay is kneaded, a number of tsa-tsa would be produced to either leave behind as offerings or bring back home as relics.

The production of tsa-tsa is considered a meritorious action, which generates an abundant dose of auspiciousness for the creator, his family and the immediate area where the work takes place. Sometimes a pilgrim stays in a place for weeks or months pressing an auspicious number of images. These images are then deposited as offerings on the ledges of a stupa, inside stupa gates, within a holy cave, on prayer wheel niches in the ambulation path of a monastery, or in the hollows of the stonewalls carved with prayers lining the route.

Tsa-tsa produced with sacred clay are also carried home as most precious relics. These are either placed on the home or monastery altar or given away as pilgrimage gifts connecting the recipient with the distant sacred sites. Sometimes pilgrims, after years of following the sacred routes, accumulate a good number of small tsa-tsa from all the places visited. In order to preserve them well the small clay medallions are imbedded in a wood board and a portable altar made out of them.  

Anything which carries a representation of a deity is considered a sacred object, especially if it has been ritually empowered by a great teacher or came from a holy place. So tsa-tsa are sometimes placed within statues as part of the empowerment. 

Tsa-tsa are also pressed on certain special occasions when an important person visits a great lama. Special clays are utilized and sometimes empowered colored powders or ashes from a departed teacher added. When the clay is freshly stamped into the mold and still soft, the lama presses on the back his finger or palm prints. This is usually done as a mantra is recited and a strong positive wish generated into the clay. After the clay dries such tsa-tsa are usually fired to make them stone hard. They are then treated as an amulet and placed either inside a travelling shrine (Tib, Gau) or on the home altar. Such mementos of a visit become prized objects of power, imbued with the positive qualities of the lama who gave it. There are precious tsa-tsa pressed by the high lamas or famous yogis that have been passed down within families as most precious heirlooms.

Amulet tsa-tsa are reverentially touched to the forehead as a blessing when someone is ill or departing for some dangerous enterprise. This is a way of imbuing the recipient with the purifying power of the depicted deity or the power of the lama who made it.

Tsa-tsa also play a very important role in funeral practices. Usually after a person passes away a ceremony is performed for 49 days or less in front of an effigy of the deceased. The effigy may be as simple as a woodblock print together with some personal item. A lama reads everyday from sacred texts guiding the consciousness of the departed through the itinerary of the intermediate dimensions called the Bardo. At the conclusion of the readings the paper print representing the deceased is burned in a final ceremony. The ashes from the print are then mixed with clay and a number of tsa-tsa stamped by a relative or close friend. These funeral tsa-tsa are almost always shaped as conical stupas of a very ancient design. While the clay is still soft inside the metal mold a few grains of either barley or wheat are inserted. Since funeral tsa-tsa are rarely fired, the grains sometimes sprout bringing to life the tiny stupas. This is a way of symbolically expressing the ceaseless cycle of transformation experienced by all beings.

Funeral tsa-tsa were traditionally deposited inside the open stupa gates lining the approaches to a monastery or left under the ledges of a sacred site. Such funeral tsa-tsa by virtue of their sacred shape are treated with respect, and unless they come from the remains of a great teacher, are not kept at home.

The tsa-tsa from the ashes of a great teacher are usually distributed among disciples and followers. They are treated not so much as funeral objects but as tokens of transcendence and the impermanent nature of existence. Instead of inducing feelings of sadness they are instruments for experiencing the luminous quality of infinite space without boundaries.

A very important use of tsa-tsa is in the empowerment of stupas. Generally stupas are built as receptacles to enshrine relics of great teachers, sacred books, or anything radiating sacred power; they function as reminders of the liberated state. One of the easiest ways of filling a large stupa with sacred objects is through the production of tsa-tsa. The sponsor for the construction of a stupa hires a team of workers to press thousands of tsa-tsa. This is always messy work where everyone gets covered with mud from head to toe. However, being an auspicious action for everyone involved, a great air of cheerfulness pervades the work. There is rhythmic recitation of prayers or singing of work songs to dissipate fatigue and keep the mind in a cheerful state free of tension. To speed the project several different metal moulds are used with the result that the stupa at the end contain a great assortment of images. This type of work is usually done at the end of summer, when there is no further work in the fields and the temperature is not yet freezing.

As the tsa-tsa dry they are placed in piles within the core of the open stupa. Once the stupa is full the door of access is sealed up and a lama may then perform a consecration ceremony. In the area of Shey Gompa very near Leh in Ladakh is a vast field of stupas made of unfired clay bricks. With the passage of the centuries some have collapsed, revealing hollow cores several feet high completely packed with unfired tsa-tsa. Such tsa-tsa were usually smeared with white clay paint as a means of general blessing and empowerment.

Monastery walls sometimes are “tiled” with tsa-tsa playing a decorative role similar to wall paintings. These tsa-tsa are usually fired and painted. As the centuries pass, inevitably the tsa-tsa fall down and break. Since broken images are not kept within monastery walls, they are placed within special structures where discarded sacred objects are placed.

The use of tsa-tsa is not confined to areas of Tibetan influence only. In Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand and Burma tsa-tsa are extremely valued as amulets and often worn around the neck. Around the Wat Po in Bangkok there are several blocks of tsa-tsa amulet sellers sometimes asking extraordinary sums for amulets produced by famous teachers.

In Beijing, at the Hall of Auspicious Clouds in the Qing Palace a complete room is filled with thousands of large tsa-tsa arranged in shelves and altars all around. Each has been carefully painted and empowered.

In the ruins of Khara-Khoto, Dunhuang and Ch’ien Fo-Tung in Central Asia the explorations of Sir Aurel Stein brought to light numerous examples of tsa-tsa, some dating to the eight-century.

At this point in our knowledge it is impossible to establish how old is the tradition of pressing clay figures out of molds. In Eastern India tsa-tsa dating from the 8th century have been found in Buddhist ruins. It appears that the custom of making tsa-tsa was primarily confined to the Buddhists and did not become an important part of Hindu practices. However in the ruins of Mohenjo-daro, dating from 2500 BC, stone seals have been found which were clearly intended to press upon a soft medium for making impressions. The subjects of these seals are usually deities and sacred symbols that are still little understood.

The Mohenjo daro seals may well be the ancestors of stamps in the Indian subcontinent but in turn they are the eastern representatives of a stamping tradition, which began in the Middle East as far back as the 6th millennium BC.

In the ancient Middle East consignments of goods were marked with stamps pressed upon soft clay. These seals seem to have been marks of ownership and by extension protection of the cargo. The symbols used on the seals evolved over the millennia from abstract geometric patterns into mythological figures and deities.

The protective quality of the seals placed them in the category of amulets. In addition the owner of the sealed cargo was also protected by the power communicated by the stamped symbol. As the use of written documents became more widespread they also began to be stamped with seals of authority. If the documents had to be sent far away they were also stamped outside with special seals. Little by little stamping and sealing became associated with power and authority. Large number of Middle Eastern seals and stamped clay tablets have been recovered from ruins dating as far back as the 6th millennium BC. This practice was not confined to Sumeria and Babylonia but spread to Egypt, Persia, India and probably China, where seals and stamps became extremely important in all official transactions.

Perhaps the tsa-tsa of the Buddhist in the Indian and Tibetan sphere of influence are the descendants of such middle eastern ancestors. It is too early to say.

Reproduction through a repeatable medium occupies a very special place in Tibetan culture. Early on it became associated with meritorious action. Early this century travellers to Tibet reported seeing pilgrims seated by the side of streams stamping the waters with metal tsa-tsa molds, impressing into the flowing waters sacred forms for the benefit of all beings coming in contact with such waters.

During a recent visit to Tibet it was comforting to see in the old streets of Lhasa a travelling merchant offering for sale large numbers of shiny newly made tsa-tsa molds. Thus, despite all of the upheavals Tibetan culture has endured in the recent past, the ancient tradition continues, lending support to the finest aspirations of the human spirit.

Tibetan Tsa Tsa

By Chen Dan – published by China Intercontinental Press

“Tsa Tsa” originates from the Sanskrit, and specifically refers to the demolded clay statues in Tibetan Buddhism. It is a small Buddha statue or stupa made as follows: Fill a concave mold with the clay tightly, press it into shape and then demold. As said by the Italian Tibetologist Mr. G Tucci in his book entitled Tibet Archaeology. “Tsa Tsa originates from a word in dialects of central and northern India ancient in ancient times and in the middle Ages, and is closely related with stupa. The custom of putting ‘Tsa Tsa’ in the stupa originates from the Indian custom of storing holy articles in the stupa body made of slab stone.” To redeem the vow to Bodhisattva, some pilgrims bought Tsa Tsas and put them in the places where they thought there was anima. In this way, the small Buddha statue embodying the wishes was taken far away.

It is said that it is just in that way that Tsa Tsa was introduced into Tibet by Buddhists from India. But later, the development of Tsa Tsa in Tibet was far better than that in India, because Buddhism gradually declined and disappeared at the end of the 12th Century in India, the origin of Buddhism. But after being introduced into Tibet in the 7th Century, the Buddhism took root gradually and was developed and expanded eventually, despite of several hardships. As an adjunct to Buddhism, Tsa Tsa became the widespread token in Tibet.

Tsa Tsa Once Got Lost in Tibet

Tsa Tsa is the outcome of religion. The development and change of Tibetan Buddhism has greatly influenced formation of its art style. Normally, the age and geographical feature of Tsa Tsa can be easily distinguished according to certain religious period and corresponding artistic style, but it is not the case. For the small size and portability, mobility of Tsa Tsa and its mold is great, which results in the mixing and blending. So it is difficult to confirm its geographical feature and style. The experts can only generally sum up its artistic styles and age characteristics.

The Earlier Macro Period of Tibetan Buddhism is the rising period of Tsa Tsa, ranging from the 7th Century to the 9th Century. During that period, Tsa Tsas were made of clay. During the period of destruction of Buddhism launched by Langdarma the Zamprogna [King] of the last Tibetan regime lasting from 838 to 842, Buddhism suffered a catastrophe. Almost all the Buddha statues, scriptures and murals were destroyed so did all easily damaged clay Tsa Tsas.

During the subsequent 140 years, Tibetan Buddhism almost disappeared, and Tsa Tsas also disappeared.

From the latter half of the 10th Century to the 13th Century, Tibetan Buddhism began to thrive again, and entered the early Later Macro Period. At the incipient stage of the Period, Tsa Tsa integrated the shape and style features of Swat in northwestern India, Pala in northeastern India, Kashmir and Gilgit. In the meantime, it, to some extent, was influenced by the arts of Nepal and China. Tsa Tsas focused on the expressions and postures of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. As for the appearance, the simple square, round and other geometric shapes dominated, and its process was relatively simple and rough. While, in the late Later Macro Period, the large-scale production of “Tsa Tsa” gradually started, indicating the removal of early Indian pattern of mass reproduction, and the formation of style characteristics of localization and nationalization.

The wide spread of Tsa Tsa in Tibet is because it satisfies faith demands of ordinary people who could enshrine and worship Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and so on by spending a little money; as a convenient belief means, it is more easily welcomed and accepted by the majority of people.

Evolution of Artistic Style

With the rapid development of Buddhism in the Later Macro Period, and the mass production and spreading of Tsa Tsas, the Indian molds used early became blurred, and were gradually abandoned. From the 14th Century to the early 17th Century, the development of Tsa Tsa trended to mature. For the absorption and Integration of artistic styles of India, Nepal and other places, plus the improvement of production processes and techniques, Tibetan craftsmen began making new molds. Those new molds owned the distinctive features of localization and nationalization of Tibet, bestowing Tsa Tsas -the Buddhist artworks with the aesthetic style characteristics of Tibetan culture. The mature Tibetan Tsa Tsas were spread to Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, Yunnan, Mongolia and other places, so as to initially enter the development period characterized by slightly different region style. The period is also the period when the Tibetan and Han arts were compatible, learning and absorbing from each other.

After the mid-17th Century, the court of Qing Dynasty [1644-1911] always adhered to the basic national policy of maintaining the Mongolian and Tibetan areas under its rule and ensuring the security of Northwest and Southwest border areas. In addition, the court handled the relationship with Tibetan Buddhism prudently and properly, and greatly promoted the development of Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhist art. With the increasing exchange between Chinese and Tibetan cultures, a large number of Chinese culture elements were introduced into the religious art of Tibet in the later period. At first, the pattern of blending exchanged between Chinese and Tibetan cultures, and later, with the gradual increased impact of Chinese culture, the Tibetan painting entered a formulaic stage. The formation of specifications on the Tibetan Buddhist painting provided a uniform Standard for the statues in murals, Thangka, sculptures and Tsa Tsa molds, providing the basis for artists to learn and practice, and thus making the art level of Tibetan Buddhism reach its peak. The development of Tsa Tsa began to enter the period of art treasures. Tsa Tsas during this period featured rigorous design, neat layout, delicate Image, iconography with serious expression, and flat background. Many refined art treasures of Tsa Tsa were produced in this period.

However, the molds created by some folk artists were relatively plain, natural, vivid, full of folk temperament and interest, and free from constraints.

Guge Tsa Tsa

Throughout the whole development of Tibetan artistic style, one place named Ngari must be mentioned because it has played an important role in the development of Tibetan Buddhism and art.

in the westernmost region of Tibet, the Tholing Monastery and Guge ruins of Zada County, Ngari, still retain the murals with the style quite different from those in other parts of Tibet, and with obvious characteristics of Buddhist art in India: The Bodhisattva in the mural was characterized by showy curves, gentle and lovely shape, round and high breasts, composed and free expression, random gesture such as the semi-side position, and not being particular about the symmetry and norm of pictures. Such kind of painting works is very contagious, making people feel the freedom and creativity of painters. In this period, Tsa Tsa iconography was influenced by the arts of painting, architecture and sculpture, and the arts of neighboring countries south to Tibet were also integrated. The iconographies of Buddha have vivid postures, rich expressions. Many decorative elements have been used to make Tsa Tsa molds, and the works implied the styles of India, Nepal and Kashmir.

The material used to make Guge Tsa Tsa includes a kind of off-white fine clay, which can not only depict the soft and delicate features of character iconography, but also show the fine feature of scriptures and paternosters. Besides iconographies of deities, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, there are many Tsa Tsas made in the shape of stupa, and various Tsa Tsa Stupas, which is thought provoking.

Five Kinds of Tsa Tsas

Tsa Tsas in Tibet are of hierarchy. Experts generally classify Tsa Tsas into five categories according to material, function, preciousness of holy article contained, and popularity of producer, etc.

The most common kind of Tsa Tsa is made of common clay, with low cost, and widely spread among the people. The better clays include daub clay, pot clay, white clay and so on. During the production, producers embed the highland barley or other mascots containing the happy life wishes into the back of Buddha statue. Some will be burned after being demolded for waterproof brick nature. Some will be burned again after the color decoration, which is more particular.

“Relics Tsa Tsa” is one of the rarest kinds of Tsa Tsas. According to the rituals of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama, Panchen Erdeni and some other grand Living Buddhas will be buried in the stupa after the Parinirvana. Before the burial of Living Buddha’s body in the stupa, the long-time, meticulous and strict anti-corrosion and shade-dry treatment should be carried out, with details as follows: Blot up the blood inside the body by using the salt, saffron crocus and other valuable drugs, mold it into gold body after being dried up, and then put it in the gold or silver stupa body for people to worship. The Buddhists in the temple produce the “Relics Tsa Tsa” by mixing the salt soaking with the blood water of relics of Living Buddha or other drugs with the clay. It is the most valuable Tsa Tsa, and mainly used as amulet. Tibetans believe that the owning Relics Tsa Tsa as the amulet can withstand all evils, ensure the safety and make them invulnerable. Moreover, Relics Tsa Tsa also has the medicinal effect. When unable to get medication, devout Tibetans would cut a little off the Relics Tsa Tsa and eat it because they believe it can cure all the diseases, and many similar examples have been spread among the people. But it is really difficult to get the Relics Tsa Tsa, which could only be accessed by the relatives of masters, officials and aristocrats.

Another precious Tsa Tsa is made of the bone ash of Living Buddha together with clay. Eminent monks in Tibetan temples will usually be cremated after Parinirvana. The cremation is one of the top-hole Tibetan funeral rituals, only inferior to tower burial. Generally, cremation can only be enjoyed by Living Buddhas and eminent monks. After the cremation, the stupa shall be built, and then the Tsa Tsa made of bone ash and clay shall be put in the stupa. In this way, the “Buddha body” can also bless the human world. Such a kind of Tsa Tsa is called “Ashes Tsa Tsa”, and is very precious.

Another kind of Tsa Tsa is made of different valuable medicinal herbs, such as pearls, agate, saffron crocus and other Tibetan medicine and can be used for medical treatment. It is very precious because it not only plays the role of spiritual sustenance, but also, most importantly, has the practical value. It helps holders ward off evils and can also break off one piece to cure a disease when experiencing physical discomfort. “Medicine Tsa Tsa” is basically similar to general Tsa Tsa in terms of shape, but only slightly different in color. In addition, there is another kind of Tsa Tsa named “Celebrity Tsa Tsa” which is made personally by the Dalai Lama, Panchen Erdeni, some other eminent monks or celebrities. On the back of this kind of Tsa Tsas, there are seals, fingerprints or marks of the masters. Among the Celebrity Tsa Tsas, there are also Medicine Tsa Tsas, which are more valuable because people e usually think they have more remarkable effects for being made by celebrities.

From the shape, Tsa Tsa can be divided usually into two kinds: one is brick-shaped, with a variety of relief Buddha statues on one side, in the shape of round, square, triangle, etc. The screen size ranges from one Buddha statue at least to over one hundred statues. The other is three-dimensional stupa, with Buddha statues or various changes. The minimum Tsa Tsa diameter is less than 1.5 cm, and the largest is more than 30 cm. Stupa Tsa Tsa is probably the smallest ancient stupa preserved in the world. Some only 2.1 cm Stupa Tsa Tsas have eight small stupas representing eight Interpretation of Shakyamuni on the surface. What is more, on the surface of a 2.5 cm Stupa Tsa Tsa, there are not only eight different stupas, but also two copies of Tibetan mantras.

Miniature Buddhist World

Tsa Tsa subjects are mostly Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and other iconographies and stupas, mantras. Tsa Tsa seems probably rougher than a variety of copper iconographies, but regardless of materials, iconography rituals remain same stringent, because the holy things for blessing of Tibetan Buddhism are inviolable. Tsa Tsa, generally popular among people, always together with Mani stones, prayer flags, often appear at stupas, holy caves, holy lakes, Mani Stack and circumambulation. The common performance of Tsa Tsa includes high reliefs, bas-reliefs, and round carving, which are extruded with concave molds, then dried, and used directly in most occasions or after burning or painting. It was first used as filler inside the abdominal cavity of stupas or Buddha statues, so that stupas and Buddha statues were considered to have Buddha aura.

In Tibetan customs, Tsa Tsa has a wide range of roles: removing trouble, blessing, protection… in addition, there is a purpose: Whenever a Tibetan is sick or dies, his family will invite monks for chanting, and based on the patient or the deceased’s birthday, figure out the Buddha and Tsa Tsa to remove misfortunes, so the family will make a certain number of Tsa Tsas, for offering on the circumambulation to holy mountains, halls and temples or in holy lakes, in order to pray for family prosperity, fulfillment of a promise and removing the evil.

With the development of Buddhist culture, the image of Tsa Tsa was enriched, including gods, Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Yidams, Dharmapalas, etc. Tsa Tsa function was greatly expanded and the original monotonous content varied gradually to form a unique miniature world of deities.

At the crossing of Tibetan holy mountains and lakes, there are many dedicated maisonettes built to store Tsa Tsas, usually about one person high, called the Tsa Tsa Temple. After a temple is filled with Tsa Tsas, enclose it with walls, and leave only a small opening, in order to let circumambulators add new Tsa Tsas, which may reach tens of thousands in number over time. Tibetans believe that a turnaround such a temple is equivalent to numerous ceremonies to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, and countless chanting, to reduce their sins and increase reward.

Production Process

During the production of Tsa Tsa, first sprinkle highland barley on a smooth panel, divide clay into several small groups to attach to them-barley on the back must be in an odd number, because Tibetans believe that an odd number is auspicious, some people put some scripture text, clothes or other prayer materials into them.

Brush the mold with a little oil for better smooth, then put the mold onto the clay, knock the copper mold with a thick stick, and open it carefully.

The newly demolded Tsa Tsas need to be dried in the shade, because sunshine will make them crack. They may be burned to the quality of brick, or even colored and glazed. When Tsa Tsas are accumulated to a certain number, invite monks for chanting and consecration, and then put into Tsa Tsa Temple for best wishes.

Because of small size, it is easy to carry Tsa Tsa mold, which can be made anytime anywhere with no technology or special materials, but a little soil and water. Therefore, Tsa Tsas, as a kind of Tibetan Buddhist sculpture, are most widely distributed in the largest number among sacred objects for oblation in Tibet. In Tibet, those producing Tsa Tsas are usually wandering monks, or Buddhist pilgrims living in poverty, they are making Tsa Tsas all day at circumambulation or holy land piously, as a way of life, and also to accumulate merits. People passing by donate money or food to show their good will.

Mold to Make Tsa Tsa

A precise mold consistent with iconography measurement is the first condition to produce a fine Tsa Tsa. Currently, the texture of ancient Tsa Tsa mold found consists of ceramic, wood, stone, iron, copper, and, in few occasions, ox horn and pulp. The mold-making process is as follows: first, make a prototype exactly the same as the Tsa Tsa to be produced, and produce one or several molds opposite to the prototype to shape Tsa Tsa directly. The Tsa Tsa mold common among Tibetan monks and laymen is called “Cashigong” in Tibetan. Most ancient Cashigong handed down are bronze, brass and other metal products, and pottery, paper, wood and early brass Cashigong are rare.

The quality and shape of mold depends on craftsman’s skills. In Tibet, some folk craftsmen may also make molds, and those austere and lovely Tsa Tsas with strange proportions are mostly made by folk craftsmen. While, high-quality mold makers are usually skilled monks or gurus in temples, their superb artistic expression contributes to precise and appropriate depiction on even the slightest nuances. The mold materials may be metal, pottery, stone, wood, or even clay.

Tsa Tsa mold consists of solo mold [also called flat mold] and dual mold [also called double-leaf mold]. Most of the products by flat molds are reliefs, line engraving works. There are also small round carving works like Babao Stupa. Tsa Tsas produced by dual mold are three-dimensional round carving works, which are commonly Sakyamuni statue, Padmasambhava, Tsongkhapa, Amitayus and Tara statues. Such Tsa Tsas are relatively complex in large size, so they must use dual mold to fulfil the three-dimensional design. Only by combining two molds can the entire three-dimensional body be produced. Of course, there is a kind of Tsa Tsa specifically for amulet in flat shape, but it’s printed with clear patterns on both sides, and Tsa Tsa can be considered complete only with two different patterns. This type of Tsa Tsa is extremely rare and valuable.

Tsa Tsa molds are usually cast with hard metal, such as copper, brass and iron, and a small amount of stone and ceramic molds, so a mold can be used by several generations, and make numerous Tsa Tsas.

About the author
Chen Dan was a graduate from the Department of Journalism of the China School of Journalism and Communication, and furthered her study of the Chinese culture in Tsinghua University, She went to cover the cultural activities in Tibet for a dozen times, and once stayed in Lhasa for over a year. Her experience made it possible for her to write good books or articles on Tibetan culture. Beginning in 2009, she wrote for China’s Tibet magazine columns of Tibet Handicrafts and Tibetan Art Collectors. Cashing in on her stay and work in Tibet, she has taken thousands of photos of great value, and many of these were used for her works which run to some 1 million words. Her illustrated works already published include:

Tibetan murals Arts and Crafts Unique to the Snowland
– Tibetan Handicrafts and Ancient Road for Tea-Horse Trade
– Places Covered by Caravans