Culture and Arts
The immense plateau of Tibet is sparsely populated and they are mainly categorized as Drogpas(Nomads) and Shingpas(Farmers), due the its geographical and natural condition, central, eastern, southern and western Tibet is mainly populated with Shingpas(farmers) while far east and west, northern Tibet are inhabited by Drogpas (Nomads) since from its early days, but it is common that both nomads and farmers can be found in the same region, where nomads live in the mountainous grassy region and farmers live bottom of the valley and bank of the rivers.
Over the centuries, Tibetan culture was developed under both internal and external factors, cultural influence of the neighboring countries also played an important role in the development of Tibetan culture, including Nepal, India and Bhutan in the south and west, China and Mongol in the north and east. Later in the 7th and 8th century, introduction of the Buddhism from its origin country India had exerted a deep influence over the whole plateau, since then Buddhism became indispensable part of the Tibetan culture. Gradually cultural variations came to exist due to the regional geographical and environmental distinction in different parts of the Tibet, generally the culture variation in Tibet can be described by Utsang(central and western Tibet), Kham (far-eastern part) and Amdo (northern part), since then its geographical remoteness and inaccessibility had isolate the region from the rest of the world and preserved its rich and indigenous culture without any influence from the outside world in the names of modernization.
After 1980s, when Tibet was widely opened for outsiders, it brought a tremendous boost in its economic development and phase of modernization; naturally the cultural degradation lead to a long gap between the old people and youngsters within the country, in the way of their speaking, attitude, clothing, belief, manner and so on, but the Buddhism philosophy and practice has deeply rooted in their day to day life of all Tibetans, intensively celebrate religious festivals and making pilgrimages to distant monasteries, holy mountains and lakes are becoming indispensable part of their life, so the HH. The 14th Dalai Lama describe Tibetan culture as Buddhist culture.
Tibetan Language and writing
The Tibetan language is classified as one of the 23 Tibeto-Burman languages spoken within the border of the present day China in the Himalayan region, but there are clear variations in dialect from Ladakh in the far-west to the Kham Gyarong, Gyalthang and Golok dialect of eastern Tibet, specially the distinctive differences in pronunciation and vocabulary always been mistaken for distinct languages. Generally the dialects among Tibetan comprises U-key spoken in the central and western Tibet, Kham-key spoken in the far-eastern Tibet that is under the Sichuan province in the present day and Amdo-key spoken in northern Tibet that is under the Qinghai prefecture of Gansu province, but there is a common Tibetan writing among all Tibetan irrespective of regions and location, Tibetan writing is date back to 7th century, during the reign of King Songtsen Gampo, he sent his minister Thonmi Sambhota to India to study the art of writing, and upon his return he invented the Tibetan script by researching several years at the Phapongang monastery, the form of the letters is based on an Indic alphabet of that period, he devises a new syllabary of 30 consonants and 4 vowels to suit his own entirely different Tibetan language. Thon-mi Sambhota wrote eight treatises on Tibetan grammar, two of which survive. Since then Tibetan writing undertaken by numbers of improvements different periods.
Tibetan houses are widely different from region to regions, in the central Tibet it is built by combination of stone, earth and wood, where in the eastern part use mostly wood and very thin wall in the outermost, some part in the western and far-eastern(Khampa) use adobe and wood, only in eastern Tibet the houses has peak roof to accommodate the long monsoon in the region, other regions has a flat roof with Lungta (wind horse prayer flags) on each corner to disperse the prayers in the wind, all the doors and windows are beautifully decorated with paintings and colorful clothes called Shambu. Each family has a special room as temple and it is fully decorated with ritual items, images and thangka. In the villages there is a small compound around the house as animal shelter and southern walls of the houses are largely covered by circular cow-dung for drying.
Yak is most symbolic animal of Tibet plateau, which exists nowhere else in the world, yak is resistant to extreme cold of -30 or -40°. The nights in winter do not frighten the yak even in high winds. It provides everything like meat, milk of which one makes butter and oil for lamps, the long hair is useful for making ropes, clothing, blankets and tents, dung is used as fuel, to boil tea as it does not give enough calories to heat either a house or a tent. In the early days traders in Tibet were mainly depend on Yak as the only means transportation, and farmers use yak for ploughing fields.
Tibetan farmers mostly grow barley, wheat and potatos, which require only three months to produce, from barley they make Tsamp and flour from wheat, which then store for the use of whole year around, Tsampa is the main stable food in Tibet, it is made from roasted barley by water mills, the dry and cool climate allows a near-eternal preservation. The roasted barley, mixed with the tea and butter, will be used as a basis for the nourishment which is the " tsampa ". Apart from that there are very complete traditional cuisines that mostly non-vegetarian as there is only few vegetables grow in the harsh climate in the early days, these cuisines were consumed previously by the rich families, today these products are used in the tourists restaurants. where the culture of greenhouses are intensively using in Tibet and different vegetable cuisines are available. However, in the lowest valleys of the south and south-east, one will find trees and vegetables because of its tropical climate. Tibetan never eat sea foods like fishes and wild animals, though there are abounding wild animals and fishes are can be found almost in every rivers in Tibet, as per the Buddhist philosophy, killing is sin and accumulation of sin will lead a bad karma in the coming life, so Tibetans eat only domestic animals that they feed, also they are so many vegetarians in Tibet specially lamas and monks in the monasteries.
Prayer flags were originally used as talismans to protect Tibetans during the war. It is originated from Bon religion that people used prayer flags for protection, and it is printed symbols such as snow lion, dragon, and tiger the flag. Tibetan prayer flags were eventually adopted into Tibetan Buddhism with prayers or messages of hope and peace printed on it. The colors of Tibetan prayer flags are significant in five different color, and it symbolize five basic elements in a certain order, blue stands for the ether, or wind, white for air, red for fire, green for water and yellow for earth. Prayer flags depicts mantras of different deities and protectors, such as Tara, Guru, Chenrezig and so on, prayer flags can be placed inside of a room in your house, and traditionally they were placed outside of house. Tibetan hang the prayer flag on clean and windy spots like high passes and river side, that is why you see heaps of prayer flags on almost every passes in Tibet. Tibetan Prayer flags above all symbolize peace and harmony.
Tibetan Thangka painting
Thangka painting is an ancient Tibetan Buddhist art form, which has been practiced in Tibet since from 7th century. Thangka simply is the Tibetan word for painting.
Thangka is a painting of various deities and venerable teachers such as the historical Lord Buddha Shakyamuni rimmed by colorful silk. These images inspire through their beauty, but also, a painted deity is a visual support for those who practice meditation.
The origins of Thangka painting is dated back to Buddha time and stretch even further. Lord Buddha lived about 2600 years ago in India, where He taught the Holy Dharma to a large following and also instructed and inspired many artists. The painted image had its origin in the country of Magadha, which is Bihar of central India, where Buddha was enlighten under a Banyan tree there. As Lord Buddha's Teachings flourished in India beyond His lifetime, His Teachings spread to neighboring countries like Tibet, to establish Buddhism in Tibet, the innovative 33rd Tibetan king Songsten Gampo married the Chinese princess Wencheng in early seventh century. She brought scriptures of Lord Buddha's Teachings, Buddhist sculptures and paintings, and also introduced a Chinese style of painting in Tibet by bringing some artisans with her from China. The princess was highly respected by Tibetans and she was the one of the key figure to introduce Buddhist artistic traditions in Tibet. She encouraged spreading the traditions of painting and sculpture widely throughout central and eastern Tibet. This early stage of Tibetan Thangka painting has been referred to as the old Gardri style which is the origin of graphic arts in Tibet. Another style of Tibetan Thangka painting called Menri, was introduced in Tibet from Nepal in the 9th century. Gadri has been established in the Eastern part of Tibet, whereas Menri is in Central and Western part of the country. In the 16th century, the Gadri style experienced a renaissance from the influence of the great artist Namka Tashi, who was linked to the Great Saint Mikyo Dorje, later the 8th Karmapa. made significant contributions, also the artists Cho Tashi and Kasho Karma Tashi brought changes from their artistic contribution, these three artists established the Karma Gadri style of Tibetan Thangka painting.
Song and dances
Tibet is also known as “Ocean of songs and dances”, dancing and singing is extensively spread throughout Tibet since from centuries ago, songs and dances are widely categorized as wedding songs, love songs, archery songs, circular dancing songs, folk songs, drinking songs, labor songs as so on, they are deeply connected with their daily life, specially during the festivals people spend whole days of dancing and sing with their traditional dresses.
Tibetan opera is date back its origin in 15th century, it was founded by first Tibetan engineer Thangthong Gyalpo, who built 108 chain bridges within Tibet and he started the Tibetan opera with seven brothers to rise funds and materials to build the bridges, since than it became one the most popular public show that mostly play during the festivals.
On the vast plateau of Tibet, nomad shepherds are lonely catering herds of their animals in the alpine grassland, but they are accompanying by their songs and they are express all their feelings through songs in the open nature, that is also how they practice their voices.
The Tibetan custom of sky burial in which corpses are dismembered and fed to vultures has attracted mixed feelings of revulsion, fear and awe among outside visitors. Yet it is important that the custom is no the only means of disposing of the dead in Tibet, but it is the most popular throughout the Tibet.
Since Tibetan are strongly practicing Buddhism and believing death and rebirth from their own Buddhist teachings. Following the moment of the death, the consciousness or spirit will leave from the deceased body and the body is thought to return to one of the elements- earth, air, fire, water or wood. Through there are also other means of burial practicing in Tibet, but it is only subjected to some limited conditions. Cremation is mostly use for high lamas and the ashes placed in a stupa as funeral tombs. Earth burial is also rare and those who are dead by poison or communicable diseases will buried. Water burial-where the deceased body fed to fishes, it is mostly reserved for small children.
After several days of ritual officiation by monks will help the consciousness to transfer from the deceased body and then guide it to the next life. Then the corpse brings to the sky burial site. There are several holy sky burial sites around Tibetan plateau including Sera Shar and Dregong Thill in central Tibet; and Darling monastery in Golok. Corpses may be carried long distances fro dismemberment at one of the preferred sites. There specialized monks or lay people at the burial site works at the sky burial site, the corpses cut into shreds and feed to vultures, bones also crushed and mixed with Tsampa and feed at the end. The vultures mostly staying nestling near by mountain of the sky burial site and are summoned by an offering of incense. They are revered as birds of purity, subsisting only on corpses.
Tibetans are not only people to dispatch the dead in this way. The Parsees in India follow a similar custom. However the ancient Parsee religious custom may soon disappear because the vultures that eat the bodies are headed for extinction in India. Populations of both the long-billed and white-backed vulture have crashed since 1996 due to a virus of some kind.