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Tibetan to the T

A Tibetan monk shows Bangalore that the perfect brew might also include dollops of butter and some salt for good measure


"PASS THE butter please," said Passang Dorge. Not what you'd traditionally expect to hear at teatime in a Tibetan monastery. Ah, the Western influence, you smile indulgently. Butter with warm scones. But no scones arrive. Just the salt.

Passang's demonstration of a traditional Tibetan tea ritual grew increasingly unfamiliar as Ladakhi tea from Cha-Bar boiled in hot water, dissolved in milk, soaked in large chunks of butter and mixed with salt. Thanks to 21st Century conveniences, the concoction was then spun around in a mixie to produce: Tibetan tea!

As the sceptical audience tentatively sipped the warm broth, Passange, a visiting monk from Bylakuppe, explained that the butter is added to provide energy and succour on cold Tibetan days. Persistent members of the audience asked about the use of a mixie. What would you do back in Bylakuppe, they wanted to know. "Use a mixie," replied Passang, unfazed.

But in less modernised settings, Tibetans mix their tea in large cauldrons over a fire, using a pestle to grind the tea in with the other ingredients. The tea tastes a bit like mushroom soup and is more substantial than regular tea.

Butter offerings

Passang also demonstrated the process of making tormas, traditional Tibetan offerings that use cold water to mix wax and butter into a mandala to appease the Buddha. He apparently spent 10 days meticulously crafting the three mandalas on display, bent over them muttering Buddhist chants.



Passang Dorge absorbed in the elaborate tea ritual. — Photos: V. Sreenivasa Murthy

Hours of labour

Each torma consists of tiny shapes, each one painstakingly shaped with his fingers and pigmented in varying shades of the same colour. The tormas are made for special ceremonies and can adopt different symbolic meanings, sometimes used as offerings to deities, sometimes as food offerings and sometimes as physical symbols to absorb negativity. They last about three days.

The Ladakhi tea that Passang used to demonstrate a traditional tea ritual is available at Cha-Bar at the Oxford Bookstore in the Leela Galleria.

H.G.

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