Tibetan Culture & Customs

by | May 15, 2017

Tibetan culture and customs reflect the history, politics, economy, psychology, and culture of the Tibetan people. They cover a wide range and manifest in a diverse form, from food, clothing, entertainment, particular forms of funeral service and Tibetan Buddhism.

Tibet’s culture is unique in the world. Due to its geographic and climatic conditions and it has formed its own unique customs over thousands of years, has been set as the example to the world as one of the last remaining authentic cultures in the world.

while the development of Tibetan culture has great influence by neighboring cultures from China, India, and Nepal, the Himalayan region‘s remoteness and inaccessibility have preserved distinct local influences and stimulated the development of its distinct culture.

Tibetan Buddhism has exerted a particularly strong influence on Tibetan culture since its introduction in the seventh century. Buddhist missionaries who came mainly from India, Nepal, and China introduced arts and customs from India and China. Art, literature, and music all contain elements of the prevailing Buddhist beliefs, and Buddhism itself has adopted a unique form in Tibet, influenced by the Bon tradition and other local indigenous beliefs.

Tibetan People

Tibetan People: The racial origins of the Tibetans are little known and remain a matter of scientific speculations. The written history of Tibet started 1400 years ago. Archaeological findings of prehistorical remnants are rare on this plateau because of its political sensitivity and harsh environment. However, some evidence from geoscience expeditions shows that humans were living here in Paleolithic times. Stone tools have been found in central north and western Tibet without dating information

Tibetan Language

Language is considered the very important aspect of Tibetan culture & custom. Tibetan language belongs to the Tibeto-Burman group of languages and is spoken by around six million people, mainly in Tibet but also within Tibetan communities in Nepal, India, Bhutan, and Pakistan. Historically Tibet was divided into three cultural provinces called U-Tsang, Kham, and Amdo. Each one of these three provinces has developed its own distinct dialect of Tibetan. The most widely spoken language is the Lhasa dialect, also called standard Tibetan, which is spoken in central Tibet.

Traditional Clothing in Tibetan Culture

Tibetan traditional clothing has a strong connection with the people and the climate of the Tibetan plateau.  They tend to be conservative in their dress, and though some have taken to wearing western clothes, traditional styles still abound, especially in rural and nomadic villages. Each area of Tibet has its own distinct style of clothing. The clothes are influenced by the religion and environment.

Tibetan Cuisine

In Tibetan culture, cuisine includes the culinary traditions and practices of Tibet and its peoples. It reflects the Tibetan landscape of mountains and plateaus and includes influences from neighbors (including other countries such as India and Nepal). The cuisine is known for its use of noodles, goat, yak, mutton, dumplings, yogurt, cheese (often from yak or goat milk), butter (also from animals adapted to the Tibetan climate) and soups. The most important and commonest staple is what is called Tsampa, which is flour milled from roasted barley in the Tibetan culture.

Tibetan Architecture

Tibetan architecture contains Chinese and Indian influences but has many unique features brought about by its adaptation to the cold, generally arid, high-altitude climate of the Tibetan plateau. Buildings are generally made from locally available construction materials and are often embellished with symbols of Tibetan Buddhism. For example, private homes often have Buddhist prayer flags flying from the rooftop in the Tibetan culture. Religious structures fall into two main types: temples, which are used for religious ceremonies and worship; and stupas (Chortens), which are reliquaries and symbols. Temples (Gompas) come in a great variety of styles, generally reflecting local architectural traditions.

Tibetan Song and Dance

Tibetan song and dance:  Singing and dancing are an integral part of every Tibetan’s life. Tibetan people sing and dance for nearly every event: weddings, social gatherings, and just for fun. There are many different styles of dance; each area of Tibet has its own distinct style. Gorshey dance, in Tibetan Culture, is a group dance popular in rural Tibet. This dance is usually performed on the open ground and can go on for long. It consists of men and women dancing together in a circle.

Tibetan Opera

Tibetan opera, Ache Lhamo, which means Fairy in Tibetan, is the traditional opera of Tibet. The first opera troupe in Tibet was founded in the Ngamring area during the 15th century by Thangtong Gyalpo.

Thangtong Gyalpo was born in Olpa Lhatse in upper Tsang or Lato in the 14th century, his birthplace also called Renchen Ding located in Shigatse prefecture, between Lhastse and Nyamring county. He is believed to be a manifestation of both Avalokitesvara and Haryagriva.

Tibetan Art and Crafts

More than a thousand years, Tibetan artists have played a very important role in the cultural life of Tibet. From designs for painted furniture to elaborate murals in religious buildings, their efforts have permeated virtually every facet of life on the Tibetan plateau. Nevertheless, apart from the petroglyphs of Rutok and the Jangtang, which have not yet been accurately dated, there is little evidence of Tibetan art prior to the seventh century. The earliest surviving examples so fully absorbed the impact of the surrounding artistic traditions that it is difficult to discern pre-Buddhist elements, should an earlier, purely indigenous tradition be found to exist.

Tibetan Marriage

In Tibetan culture, Marriage custom is an important part of all the lay people everywhere and likewise, Tibetans also consider it as a very auspicious and important event. Marriage traditions have changed in many ways. In the old days, most of the marriages were arranged by parents and only a few were a love marriage. Polygamy – something that still exists in Tibet – was also common in many areas of Tibet.

Traditional Tibetan Medicine

Traditional Tibetan Medicine is commonly known as “Sowa Rigpa” is a very ancient medical system based on Buddhist philosophy and psychology, considered to be one of the oldest, living and well documented medical tradition from the world over.

Tibetan Astrology

Tibetan Astrology is an important part of Tibetan culture. It is interwoven into daily life and provides guidance for major decisions. It is also the complement to Tibetan Medicine; astrology provides the wisdom, while medicine provides the method.

Tibetan Funeral Customs

Tibetan Buddhists believe life is not over at death, but merely entering a rebirth. Monks emphasize this cyclical nature of existence to dispel the fear of death in Tibetan society and help people prepare for a new beginning. When death occurs, Tibetan follow three main forms of burial: cremation, water burial, and sky burial. “Sky burial” is technically not a burial, but a process in which the remains of the deceased are fed to vultures. The custom is known as Jhator, which means “giving alms to the birds,” while “sky burial” is a phrase created by Europeans.

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