Thorgams and yangams are both specialized forms of Tibetan furniture little different in construction from Tibetan cabinets. Like cabinets they invariably have doors which swing on pegs. Where they differ from cabinets is in their intent and in their decoration.

Let's digress for a moment to point out that since Tibetan furniture is so new to the West, there is yet no systematic spelling in English of these names rendered from the Tibetan. You may see torgam, thorgam, torgum, thorgum, torkam, thorkam...all these words sound pretty much alike and different Tibetans will spell these words any in any of the ways above at different times. We've settled on what we find the most common spellings.

Many people refer to both thogams and yamgams as "thorgams", but Tibetan Buddhists distinguish strictly between the two. Thorgams are for offerings to the wrathful deities and yangams are for offerings to the peaceful deities. The key to distinguishing between the two is in the decoration. Thorgams are decorated with the wrathful face of Mahakala or with horrific offerings such as skulls and flayed bodies, fierce animals, or symbols of mortality such as vultures.

Being for offering to the peaceful deities, yangams never have these horrific decorations; instead they will depict peaceful offerings such as the auspicious symbols or substances or offerings to the five senses. Sometimes they are simply decorated with floral designs.

Offerings, often in the form of torma, are made by a lama at a special ceremony, and the cabinet is closed and is to remain closed for a year. Many of these thorgams and yangams originate in Tibetan monasteries, although it was apparently not unheard of for laymen to have one in a shrine room. Still the offering ceremony had to be performed by a lama.


The making of offerings
Monk at a small monastery in Sikkim making tormas
We took this photograph at a small monastery in Sikkim. The young lama was busily engaged in making tormas. The large pan in front of him contains butter and the one to the right, tsampa. These he kneeds together and forms into the shapes of stupas. Finished results are on the cabinet in the back while the tray in the foreground shows shaped but not finished tormas.
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All photographs are the property of Paul Morse and may not be used without permission.
Last updated: Thursday, December 20, 2007
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