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.