Tibet has long been held as one of the
religious sanctuaries of the world. It is the home of the Tibetan Monk,
meditation, spiritual wholeness and inner peace so strong that it disregards the
need for all material possessions. We admire Tibet, we crave what it represents
and were a little afraid of it. Many of us forget that Tibet is a country that
has the faced the loss of its culture many times over. They had to repel several
attempts by the Mongols to invade and were successful through careful debate and
compromise. The British, however, were not so easily swayed, especially as they
brought the word of Christ with them and were determined to spread it. After
them China sought to rule Tibet, which it has done on and off since 1912.
Through it all Tibet has maintained its own way of life. It has held onto the traditions that have defined it as one of the most rural and peaceful counties in the world.
Some areas of Tibet are over 3000 meters above sea level. It is very difficult to grow crops at this height. The most important Tibetan crop is barley. Barley flour is used to make a dough called tsampa, which is their staple food. Tsampa can be rolled into noodles or made into dumplings that are steamed and called momos. Tibetan meat dishes consist of yak, goat and mutton and can be dried or cooked as a spicy stew. Mustard seeds feature a lot in Tibetan cuisine because it is one of the few spices to be cultivated there on a large scale. Yak milk is a versatile commodity featuring in yoghurt, butter and cheese. Well prepared yak yoghurt can be considered an item of prestige and luxury in Tibetan society.
Tibetan dress is still very conservative with most of the population choosing to wear traditional styles rather than western clothes. Women wear dark wrap dresses over a blouse. If a woman is married she will also wear a colorfully striped, woven wool apron. Long sleeves are worn throughout the year by both sexes regardless of the blazing summer months.
A khata is a traditional ceremonious scarf that serves as a versatile gift given on festive occasions. It is made of white silk, which symbolizes the pure heat of the giver. The symbolism behind the gift promotes goodwill, auspiciousness and compassion. It is usually given at weddings, funerals, births, graduations, or to a host at the arrival or departure of guests. When it is presented it is accompanied by an acknowledgement of Tashi DelekÔ , meaning good luck.
Tibet music is religious music before it is anything else, and reflects the influence of Tibetan Buddhism on the culture. The music also reflects the heritage of the trans-Himalayan region and all ethnic Tibetan groups that are found in India, Bhutan and Nepal. Chanting is an integral part of Tibetan music and is often accompanied by drums.
The Tibetan calendar is a lunisolar calendar, which means that a Tibetan year has either 12 or 13 lunar months in it. Each month begins and ends with a new moon. The 13th month is only added every three years, which makes an average Tibetan year equal to a solar year. Months are referred to by numbers and are not nominal. They associate each year with an animal and an element. The animals alternate in the following order: Hare, Dragon, Horse, Sheep, Ape, Bird, Dog, Pig, Mouse, Bull, and Tiger. The elements also alternate: Fire, Earth, Iron, Water, and Wood.
The Tibetans have a relatively complex system for numbering their years. Each element has 2 consecutive years. It has a male aspect followed by a female aspect: for example a male Earth-Dragon year would be followed by a female Earth-Snake year, which would be followed by a male Iron-Horse year. Tibetans often leave the sex out as the year can be inferred from the animal.
Tibetan festivals are also deeply rooted in religion. Some of the most important festivals are the Losar, Shoton and the Bathing Festival. The Bathing Festival requires that each person take part in it three times in the course of their lifetime: at birth, marriage and death. In Tibetan culture it is believed that bathing is not a casual Endeavour, but should rather be saved for the most important occasions only. Festivals are high points in the social calendar and feature many entertaining activities such as yak racing, which suggests that perhaps the bathing should be saved for the conclusion of the festivities.
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