Khata, the Ceremonial or Offering Scarf ཁ་བཏགས།

A khata is a traditional ceremonial or offering scarf used widely in Tibetan culture and in Tibetan Buddhism for different purposes.

Tibetans believe that it started in the 7th Century AD during the rule of King Songtsen Gampo. He would present any minister or citizen who did a good job with the skin of a prized animal, like tigers, leopards, foxes or others. With the advent of Buddhism in Tibet in the 8th century as a state religion, the then King Trisong Detsen, Guru Rinpoche (Acharya Padmasambhava), Abbot Shantarakshita and others leaders, discouraged the giving of animal skin, as it required the killing of an animal for the fur or skin. Aware of the Indian tradition of giving offerings of sets of new clothing to the teachers or Guru, the tradition of giving the skin of prized animals was soon replaced with expensive brocades from China. Then to present day Khata with the passage of time.

Khata comes in a wide selection of different lengths, fabrics, and quality and they are made of cotton, silk or other materials. They look more like a long scarf and have auspicious symbols or mantras inscribed or woven into the fabric. It represents the sincerity of one’s offering, with no negative thoughts or motives in mind. They come predominantly in shades of white or ivory, due to the purity of the color but you will also find them in Blue, Red, Green and Yellow/Gold Yellow. It is a part of the Tibetan way of life from birth to death and between. It is also used as a sign of recognition of one’s love or respect for another.

The offering of Khata is probably one of the most well-known customs of Tibetan culture. Originally people used it as an offering to high Lamas and officials when they greet or meet them to represents a person’s pure heart or sincerity to others. But slowly the Khata was also used for many other purposes. For example, weddings, funerals, births, graduations, arrivals, and departure of guests.

We can put the Khata around someone’s neck when offering to friends or relatives. But when offering it to lamas or people with a higher position, you should normally only offer it to his or her hands. To present a Khata you first fold it in half length-wise, this represents the interdependence of each other. Then when you offer the scarf to the person, you offer the open edges facing the person you are giving it to, the folded section will be towards you, which represents your open pure heart, with no negative thoughts or motives in the offering.

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