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Tsa-tsa, a word transliterated from Sanskrit to Tibetan, refers to the miniature Buddha and stupas molded with clay in Tibet. This special Buddhist art form resulted from the prosperous development of Buddhist culture, and was transmitted to Tibet by pilgrims from India.

Tsa-tsas are mainly used as holy oblation in Tibetan Buddhism, and certain small ones can be used as amulets. Tibetan people believe that making tsa-tsas is a process of accumulating merits and virtues. Tsa-tsas are believed to have the power to prevent disasters, cure illness, and provide atonement. After being empowered by a dignitary, they can be holy objects. These holy objects are always put in places that are believed to have a nimbus. Thus many tsa-tsas can be found inside stupas, Buddha statues, monastery altars, holy caves or beside holy mountains, holy lakes and other holy sites.

The production process of tsa-tsa is basically molding with clay. Get some clay and get rid of the impurities in it. Then add some water, knead it and put it into a mold. The mold is always a metal or a pottery mold with the hollowed and reversed image of a Buddha, a stupa or other sacred symbol. After being molded, it is dried or fired to be hard. Thus the basic tsa-tsa is made. Many tsa-tsas are painted with colorful patterns or carved with Buddhist texts. In Tibet, nearly every Buddha image has a corresponding tsa-tsa, and these tsa-tsas vary in size and shape. The diameter of a small tsa-tsa may be only one centimeter (about 0.39 inch), while the large ones may be tens of centimeters high. The shapes of tsa-tsa include round, square, triangle, etc.

Tsa-tsas can be divided into several categories according to different ingredients that are added. The commonly seen and widespread ones are ordinary, made with clay without any special ingredients added. These tsa-tsas are always engraved with Tibetan barley or other symbols to express the maker's piety or blessing for a beautiful life. Ash tsa-tsas have ashes of late dignitaries added to the clay. Medicine tsa-tsas, which can be used as healing amulets when sick, have many rare and precious medicinal materials added, including pearl, carnelian and saffron, etc. They appear the same as other tsa-tsas except for their color. Another kind of tsa-tsa contains the liquid produced in the mummifying process of late high lamas. These tsa-tsas are the most precious, are mainly used as amulets, and only the nobles and relatives of high lamas can get them. Tsa-tsas made by high lamas themselves have the lamas' fingerprints on the backside, indicating a supernatural power was infused. These delicate tsa-tsas are finished with advanced techniques, which also makes them very precious.

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