Small votive plaques made of terracotta in Tibet and other Himalayan areas are known as as tsha-tsha. Typically, they were made in molds and carried by pilgrims to place in portable shrines or to be inserted into large commemorative monuments known as “stupas” as a ritual practice. Placing a tsha-tsha into a stupa was believed to add power to the monument and to bring merit to the donor.
Tsha-tshas are relatively small: 3-4 inches high (7.5-10 cm). They are sometimes painted, but more typically are coated in gold leaf. Here are several examples.
Tsha-tshas were often created from brass molds such as the example below, which dates from the early 20th century and was used in Tibet or somewhere in the Himalayas. “Clay, together with ritual materials such as ground incense, grains and/or the ashes of a sacred individual would have been pressed into the mould, removed and then dried in the sun.” (Proser, A., (ed.), Pilgrimage and Buddhist Art, Asia Society Museum/Yale University Press, 2010., p. 87). Some tsha-tshas are fired at low temperature.
The LACMA has a fairly large collection of tsha-tshas online here. Tsha-tshas remind me of smaller clay souvenirs that I found in Thailand a few years ago and wrote about in an earlier blog post. These smaller votive items were meant to be worn or carried, not donated to a shrine or stupa.