Tibet, the roof of the world, is a land of mystery and home to one of China's most ancient ethnic groups - the Tibetans. At present, Tibet Autonomous Region, with an average altitude of above 4,000 meters, has more than 1.3 million inhabitants, 95% are Tibetans. In the Tibetan language, Tibet is called "Bo" and the Tibetans call themselves "Boba". But the name Tibetans use to call themselves differs from place to place. For example, those in Ngari use "Duiba", those in Shigatse use "Zangba", those in Lhasa use "Weiba", those in the west of Sichuan Province use "Kangba" and those in Qinghai, Yunnan, and northwest Sichuan provinces use "Anduowa".
Tibetan areas are rich in natural resources, and Tibetan people mainly live on farming and stock raising. Most Tibetans are devout Buddhists, and observe Tibetan Buddhism. Lamaseries spread all over Tibetan areas, and exhibit the rich culture and superb construction skill of Tibetans. The Potala Palace on Mt. Hongshan (Marpo Ri) in Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet, is the palace complex with the highest altitude in the world. It is well known for construction style, religion, frescos, sculpture art, and precious cultural relics.
According to myth, the Tibetan people attribute their existence to the union of an ogress and a monkey. One day a monkey came into a cave in Yarlung River valley and began to cultivate himself to attain immortality. Later, an ogress came to him and tried to tempt him with tricks. She said to the monkey: “Will you marry me?” “No, I am a disciple of Mother Buddha. I am instructed to come here to cultivate myself. If I marry with you, it will violate the religious discipline,” replied the monkey. The ogress proceeded: “If you don’t marry me, I will have to commit suicide because I am destined in my previous incarnation to be degraded into a devil. Then you and I cannot become affectionate couple. Days later, I will become the wife of a devil and give birth to countless sons and grandsons. At that time, the plateau will be plunged into a world filled with devils and thousands of people will be killed. So please do as I told you.” Stuck in the dilemma and puzzled, the monkey had to return to Putuo Hill to seek instruction from Mother Buddha. She said: “This is destiny and this is an auspicious sign. It is a deed of great kindness to marry her and reproduce offspring for the plateau. As a Buddha, you should not hesitate to conduct kind deeds. Hurry back to marry the ogress.
They got married and brought six baby monkeys into the world. They had different hobbies and different dispositions. They looked for food in the forest by themselves. Three years later, their father went to the forest and found out that the number of monkey had expanded to 500 by the way of reproduction. And they had eaten up the fruits in the forest and suffered from food shortage. Again the old monkey went to Mother Buddha for help. Mother Buddha took the seeds of five types of grains from Xumi Mountain and distributed them across the land. Crops sprung up in the vast land without being cultivated. Hence monkeys got sufficient food. After some time, their tails became shortened and they could speak language. Gradually they became humans, the ancestors of the Tibetan people.
The story that monkey became human was popular with the Tibetan people and was recorded in the ancient scriptures. You can also find the clues of the story in many wall paintings. Tsetang Town in Tibet was named after the story (Tsetang means in Tibetan language the play place for monkeys). The people in Tsetang will tell you that the cave where the monkey lived is still in the nearby Mt Gangpo Ri. The legendary first piece of farming land planting highland barley is in Sala Village, three kilometers away from the town. Up to today, every year when the sowing season comes, it is customary for people to take some “sacred soil” from the first farming field to pray for harvest and blessings from the ancestors.
In 1949, People’s Republic of China was founded. The government stuck to the policy of peaceful liberation of Tibet. As a result, Tibet was liberated peacefully in 1951. The policy of regional national autonomy was exercised in Tibet. The democratic reform wad carried out and the feudal serfdom was abolished. In September 1965, Tibet Autonomous Region was established.
Tibetans have their own language, which is known as “bod-yig” in the Tibetan-inhabited areas with the meaning of “Tibetan language”. Tibetan language belongs to the Tibetan-Burman branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family. According to geographical divisions, it has three major local dialects: Weizang, Kang and Amdo. The first two dialects have their own tones in pronunciation while the latter don’t. Created in the early 7th century, the Tibetan language, a phonetic system of writing, was based on the writing system of the ancient Sanskrit language of India. Tibetan language consists of thirty consonant, four vowels, five inverted letters (for the renting of foreign words) and the punctuations. Sentences are written from right to the left. With two major written scripts namely the regular script and the cursive hand, Tibetan language is widely used in all areas inhabited by Tibetans. In 641 AD, Songtsen Gampo, a king in southern Tibet, married Wen chen Konjo of the Tang dynasty, which gave a boost to the development of the Tibetan culture. From the 10th century to the 16th century, the Tibetan culture developed dramatically. Throughout the centuries, the Tibetans bring to us not only the two well-known Buddhist master pieces, the Bka-gyur, and the Bstan-gyur, but also other great works on cadences, literature, philosophy, history, geography, arithmetic, calendar, medicine and so on.
Usually the Zang people eat three meals a day, but during the busy harvest season they will have four, five and often more. Their staple foods are tsamba, yak butter tea, mutton, and beef.
Tsamba, made of highland wheat (Qingke) is convenient to carry around and eat whenever you want, so you can see many Tibetans carrying tsamba bags. Tibetans eat Tsampa in almost every meal. Tsampa is roasted barley flour mixed with yak butter tea or Tibetan barley wine. Tibetans usually mix the food with fingers of the right hand, and knead it into small lumps before eating.
As for drinks, they enjoy chang, a type of wine also made from Qingke, and milk tea. Yak butter tea is made of boiled tea leaves, salt and yak butter. All are mixed together and vigorously churned in a wooden cylinder till well blended. Yak butter tea is warm and nutritious, and Tibetans drink it throughout the whole day. Tibetan barley wine is a very popular alcohol in among the Tibetans. This mild alcohol is brewed from locally-grown barley, and tastes sweet and sour.
Tibetan people have very characteristic clothes. Generally speaking, they wear short upper garment made of silk or cloth with long sleeves inside, wide and loose robe outside and long boots of cattle hide. For the convenience of work or labor, they usually expose their right shoulder or both arms by tying the pair of sleeves around their waist. Both man and woman have pigtails, but man always coils up the pigtails over the head while woman combs the hair either into two or many small pigtails flooding down onto the shoulder, at the end of which some beautiful ornaments are tied. Woman prefers to wear an apron with beautiful patterns.
Tibetans deem Hada as the most precious gift. Hada is a strip of snow-white scarf made of yarn or silk. It symbolizes goodwill and respect, and can be present at various occasions of festivity, arrival and departure of guests, etc. However, there is a kind of Hada with five colors on, blue, white, yellow, green and red, respectively indicating sky, cloud, land, river and the God in charge of Buddha dharma. Five-colored Hada is very valued gift and can only be presented in the grandest occasions, such as Buddhist activities.
Castle-like house is the most representative one in Tibet. They are often stone-wood structure of primitive simplicity, looking dignified and stable. Even the walls built closely next to hillside remain vertical for stability. Such kind of houses is usually two to three stories high with circular corridor built inside.
In the pasturing area, people usually live in a yak hair tent. The tent is usually square-shaped supported by eight upright pillars. Made of yak hair, the tent is durable enough against wind and snowstorm. Meanwhile it is convenient to be dismantled, put up and removed, suitable for the herdsman's life
In whatever type of houses, there are always altar tables for worshiping Buddha. This represents Tibetans’ piety to their religion.
Tibetan Knives are traditional and well-known handicrafts with a peculiar style. they are indispensable in the life of herdsmen. Tibetans use them as the tools to defend, to slaughter livestock and to eat meat. Tibetans have a sense of security with knives because Tibetan look might and valiant with knives.Tibetan knives are produced in many regions in Tibet. People may focus on knives’practicality, sharpness, decoration, shape, etc. There are two categories: one for man and another for woman. Men’s knives tend to be more curly and sharper while women’s are delicate. The most famous Tibetan knives are Lhatse knife and XieTongMen knife in Shigates Region, whose delicate decorations are unique from those in other regions. Shigates knives are usually made of fine steel, with othe materials like bronze, silver, iron, sharkskin, ox horn, agate and wood for decration. Moveover, some of them are studded with gems. Thus, they are more expensive than the normal knives. The produing process is very complicated.
Almost all Tibetans follow Tibetan Buddhism Tibetan Buddhism is called “Buddhism” by the local Tibetans, without any words to qualify it. Elsewhere in the outside world it is know as Lamaism, Tibetan Buddhism etc.
Before Buddhism was introduced into Tibet, Tibetans followed the primitive Bo religion (also known as Bon or Black religion), mainly concerned with driving out evil spirits and divining luck.
The doctrine of the Tibetan Buddhism is based on the Mahavairocana-sutra and the Kalacakraindriya-sutra but priority is given to Mahavairocana-sutra. The four Characteristics of Tibetan Buddhism are the constant practice of its paternoster; highly respect to Lamas; beliefs in reincarnation and the combination of religion and politics.
The Great Prayer Festival is the greatest religious festival in Tibet. According to the legend, in the first month of the year, Buddha conquered or converted six holy men of false religions at the joint place between Tibet and India.In the beginning, the monks from the Three Great Monastery of Tibet(Sera Monastery, Dreprung Monastery, Ganden Monastery)assembled before the statue of Shakyamuni reciting scriptures and praying for best wishes. The Prayer Festival became more and more ceremonious as time passed by. And every time the Dalai Lama was dying, the worship accumulated and the praying time lasted longer and longer. From the fiesta of DalaiV, the Great Prayer Festival was finally fixed to begin from the fourth day of the first Tibetan lunar month to the 24th(a day to pray to drive ghosts away)and 25th(a day to invite and welcome Amitabha Buddha) and it will be held on March, 8th, 2011. During the festival, lamas from the three largest monasteries gather in the Jokhang, reciting scriptures and attending an examination for the Gexi degree. Pilgrims come from every corner of Tibet and donations are offered to the monks.
The 15th day of the first month by the lunar year is the day when Buddha conquered or converted six holy men of false religions. On the day the Living Buddhas and monks from the Three Great Monastery of Tibet will hold a grand religious ceremonies, reciting scriptures and praying for best wishes, making the Great Prayer Festival reach the climaxes .By nightfall colorful butter-made sculptures of figures, flowers, birds, and animals are displayed on the flower beds. The tallest flowerbeds is 10 meters high while the lowest is 6 meters high. Among the sculptures some are towering , magnificent, and greatly surprising, some are beautifully wrought and charming, some are be high up in the air like birds to fly, some are repeatedly joint like a stereopaiting. All these with the flashing of thousands of butter lamps make the street dazzlingly brilliant showing the people’s love for peace. The citizens rush down the street to appreciate the lamp offerings, the farmers circle around the lamp offerings to dance and sing throughout the night.
The Tibetans are a people whose love of nature has given rise to a special national custom, the Lingka Festival. The fifth month by the Tibetan calendar is the best season for Lingka, so people leave their houses and put up tents in the thick forest in Lingka, and happily enjoy the charity of nature.
It is said that this festival is remembered because in the May of Monkey year, Lotus Buddha subdued all the evils and monsters in Tibet. There is another legend about this festival. Trisong Detsan intended to build Samye Monastery ,but he came across a bad moment and failed many times. Fortunately Lotus Buddha came to help found Incense Burning and Praying Festival large-scale burnt incense in the Monasteries and prayed for peace and happiness.The adverse circumstance disappeared gradually and the monastery became a success. In order to memory this custom, a great ceremony was held when the new crescent moon comes to be full(the 15th day).It is a lucky day. Meanwhile it reaches the climaxes for the Tibetans dressing their best clothes rush to Linka camping and clinic, enjoying cooking tea with butter, barley wine and much other good food. People in Qiang national minority prefecture of Alba, Sichan, by unit of family, clan or village, set up tents in the open air on 4th of May. Every family a tent with simple decorations, cook brick tea, enjoy yoghurt. They sing, dance, tell stories, play games and drink day and night.
The Shoton Festival in Lhasa is one of the Tibetan traditional festivals. In Tibetan, “sho” means “Yoghurt” and “ton” means “banquet”. So Shoton Festival is also called the 'Yoghurt Festival'. Subsequently, as the activities of Shoton Festival gradually changed into an activity with Tibetan opera as a major part, so people also called it the Tibet Opera Festival. Prior to the 17th century, Shoton had been an exclusively religious observance. The month of June on the Tibetan calendar was reserved for self-cultivation and meditation for all the monks who were not allowed to go out of monasteries until July 1, when local residents would offer alms of yogurt (Sho, in Tibetan), that’s how The Shoton Festival came into being. From around the mid-17th century, Tibetan local operas were added to festival celebrations. In the beginning of the 18th century, Norbu Lingka was built and acted as the summer palace of Dalai. Then the main site of the festival was moved to Norbu Lingka and celebrations became formalized. Accordingly, the fixed Shoton Festival was established. In the old Tibet, the activities of the Shoton Festival went like this: on the 29th of the sixth month, troupes all through Tibet would go to the Potala Palace and registered in the local government. Curt performances was given at the ceremony and then they would worship Dalai at Norbu Lingka, and returned to Dreprung Monastery in the evening. On the 30th , Zang opera would be performed all day at Dreprung Monastery.
On the 1st of July, all the troupes would give performances together at Norbu Lingka. From 2nd to 5th of July, troupes from Gyantse , An’ rang、Nanmulin and Lhasa performed one day in turn. During the festival, the Gesa government took a holiday. All the officials woull assemble at Norbu Lingka and enjoyed the performances with Dalai. At noon, a banquet was given to treat all the officials, and Yoghurt was served. The residents in Lhasa and peasants from suburb would dress up ,take along food and drinks and go to Norbu Lingks for the performances .
Horse race and arrow shooting are popular sports on the vast expanse of grassland in Tibet, which has a history of more than 500 years in the regular festival ceremony, starting from Gyantse in back Tibetan area. During the year of 1408, In memory of the local King Rapten Kunsang, the festival falls on the 10th -27th of fourth month in Tibetan calendar again and a rule is made that all recreations will start from 28 . From 1147, shooting on gallop was added to the original schedule of events, that’s the nowadays Gyantse shooting on gallop Festival. From the middle of the 17th century, the religious activities have turned to a symbolic part. Large -scale horse race and archery comepitions are the most important part in the festival, lasting 3 days. From the 15th century, horse race and archery activities were gradually introduced to Lhasa, Qiangtang、Kongpu and other areas. The Lhasa horse race and archery activities, reaching its peak during the period of Dalai V, starts after the Great Prayer Festival and lasts 4 days.The Horse racing festivals held in Nagqu are the grandest of the racing festivals and events throughout Tibet each year, held in late July and early August in Zang Lunar. Among them the most famous is the “Dangmujiryang” in Damxung Plain, lasting five to seven days,similar to that of Gyangze, During which ,simple religious ceremony will be held and then the horses will be examined and identified , followed by horse race and arrow shooting competition. Many
Other festivals such as The Large Dharma Transmission Ceremony, Butter Lamp Festival, Exorcism Festival, Buddha Exposing Festival, Saga Dawa Festival--the Birth of the Buddha, Sunning of the Buddha Festival and so on are also very important.
The Potala Palace (simplified Chinese: 布达拉宫; traditional Chinese: 布達拉宮) is located in Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region, China. It was named after Mount Potala, the abode of Chenresig or Avalokitesvara.The Potala Palace was the chief residence of the Dalai Lama until the 14th Dalai Lama fled to Dharamsala, India, after an invasion and failed uprising in 1959.
The first palace was built in 637 by the Tibetan king, Songtsen Gampo, as a present for his bride Princess Wen Cheng of the Tang Dynasty of China.The site was previously used by the king as a meditation retreat. Lozang Gyatso, the Great Fifth Dalai Lama, started the construction of the modern Potala Palace in 1645 after one of his spiritual advisers, Konchog Chophel (d. 1646), pointed out that the site was ideal as a seat of government, situated as it is between Drepung and Sera monasteries and the old city of Lhasa.Today, the Potala Palace is a museum.
The building measures 400 metres east-west and 350 metres north-south, with sloping stone walls averaging 3 m. thick, and 5 m. (more than 16 ft) thick at the base, and with copper poured into the foundations to help proof it against earthquakes.Thirteen stories of buildings – containing over 1,000 rooms, 10,000 shrines and about 200,000 statues – soar 117 metres (384 ft) on top of Marpo Ri, the "Red Hill", rising more than 300 m (about 1,000 ft) in total above the valley floor.
Tradition has it that the three main hills of Lhasa represent the "Three Protectors of Tibet." Chokpori, just to the south of the Potala, is the soul-mountain (bla-ri) of Vajrapani, Pongwari that of Manjushri, and Marpori, the hill on which the Potala stands, represents Chenresig or Avalokiteshvara.