Tibetan Customs

Presenting Hada

Presenting hada is a kind of very common courtesy. Hada is a long piece of silk used as a greeting gift. In Tibet, it is a custom to present hada to the guests in the occasion of wedding and funeral. It is also common when people visit senior people, worship Buddha statues, and bid farewell to guests.

Tibetan CustomsPresenting hada is to show purity, loyalty, faithfulness and respect to the receivers.

It is said that only after people present hada in a monastery, can they pay homage to the Buddha statues. They are free to visit the different halls. Before departure, they will leave a hada beside their seats to indicate that even though they have left, but their hearts are still there.

Hada is made of raw silk or silk and it is loosely weaved. Hadas have different kinds of auspicious patterns, such as lotus, bottle, umbrellas and conch. The material of hada varies in quality. But people don’t care much about it only if hada can expresses good wishes. Hada is of different lengths, some as long as 3 or 4 meters, some as short as half a meter. Hada is normally white because Tibetan people believe white symbolizes purity and luck. 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 which can be given to the Buddha statues or intimate relatives. According to the Buddhism teachings, five-colored hada is the clothe of Buddha. Therefore, five-colored hada can only be presented in some special occasions.

The ways to present hada are quite different from person to person. The following is what people usually do to present a hada: take the hada with their both hands, lift it up to same level as shoulder, reach out hands, bend over, and pass it to the guest. Make sure that the top of one’s head is in the same level with the hada. Only in this way, can you express your respect and best wishes. For the receiver, he should receive it with both hands. To the seniors or elders, you should lift the hada up over your head with your body slight bent forward, and put it on the place in front of their seats or feet. For your counterpart or subordinates, you can hang the hada around their necks.

Presenting hada is very common in Tibet. Even when people correspond with each other, they won’t forget hada. They always enclose a mini hada in the letter for greeting and expressing good wishes. What’s more interesting is that when Tibetans go out they tend to take several hadas with them in case that they may give them to friends and relatives they encounter in the journey.

Hada expresses different meanings in different circumstances. In festivals or holidays, people exchange hadas to wish a merry holiday and a happy life. In weddings, people present hadas to the bride and bridegroom to wish them love each other forever. In reception, people present hadas to guests to wish the Buddha bless them. While in funeral, people give hadas to express condolences to the dead and comfort the grieved relatives of the dead.

When it comes to the origin of hada, there are various versions. One version has something to do with Zhangqian’s diplomatic mission. In Han Dynasty, Zhangqian was sent on diplomatic mission to the nations in the west of China. When he passed Tibet, he presented silk to the chieftain of the local tribe. In ancient China, silk was highly valued and symbolized for pure friendship. People in the tribes thought that giving silk was a kind of courtesy to enhance friendship. Gradually it became a custom. Another version has something to do with ancient Tibetan king Wangbasi. The king brought the hada back after he met with the emperor Khubli Khan of Yuan Dynasty. The hada had the pattern of the Great Wall and Chinese characters “jixiangruyi” (good luck and happiness to you). Later people gave hada religious sense saying that hada was the ribbons in fairy maidens’ clothes and symbolized purity and authority.


On the roads to Lhasa, from time to time you can see Buddhists prostrating. They begin their journey from their home and keep on prostrating all the way to Lhasa. They wear hand pads (protective appliance on their hands), kneepads, and a protective leather upper outer garment. With dusts on their faces, with the innumerable hardships, slowly they move forward by prostrating for every three steps, for months, or for years, toward the holy city - Lhasa. Three or four acquaintances may go together under the same belief and for the same direction. Many years ago, Buddhists would go empty-handed, even without food or extra clothes. When they felt hungry or cold, they would beg and beg. Things are different now. A Buddhist may be designated for taking charge of food and clothes, providing convenience for his companions, but never will he be allowed to replace a prostrator. The prostrating Buddhists are very scrupulous. They won’t relieve their tiredness and exhaustion by negligence. In case of heavy traffic or other situations, they will draw a line along the way with some pebbles instead of prostrating. With determination and strong faith, they walk and prostrate forward.

The prostrator follows these procedures: first, stand straight upright, chant the six-character truth meaning “merciful Buddha”, put the palms together, raise the hands up over the head, and take a step forward; second, lower the hands down in front of the face, take another step forward; third, lower the hands down to the chest, separate both hands, stretch them out with the palms down, kneel down to the ground, then prostrate with the forehead knocking the ground slightly. Stand up again and repeat the whole procedure.

Another way is to walk around the monastery on clockwise and prostrate. Starting from the front gate of the monastery, Buddhists also prostrate once for every three steps, chanting the six-character truth and some Buddhism scriptures.

Prostrating is related to the Lamaism and it has much to do with the Chinese custom of kowtow. Kowtow was a kind of daily etiquette in the feudal society in China. According to the ancient book Zhouli Chunguan Dazhu, there were nine kinds of kowtow, illustrating that the etiquette was popular as far back as in the Zhou Dynasty. In the following year of the Revolution of 1911, Sun Yatsen abolished the etiquette.

The exchange between Tang Dynasty and Tupo Regime indicates the two nationalities can learn from each other. Kowtow spread to Tibet. In order to show their fidelity, Buddhists transformed kowtow into prostrating. Gradually prostrating was widely accepted and practiced.

Making Small Pagoda

Making small pagoda is a religious custom in Tibet. People firstly make a clay impression of a pagoda and bake it. The result is a pottery pagoda. The pagoda is of cone shape, and different sizes. Inside the pagoda, there are a small piece of paper written with spell, and a small amount of highland barley. The small pagoda, usually placed around a big pagoda or a statue, is used as the sacrifice to the Buddha. In Aba district, Tibetan people pray for a bumper harvest year by putting small pagodas at the side of a road, a village or burying them in the farming land in the hope that they will kill harmful insects.

Walking Around a Pagoda

Pagodas are very important symbols of Buddhism. Buddhism scriptures are placed inside the pagodas and statues of Buddha are carved on the exterior. Buddhists regard pagodas highly. Whenever they see a pagoda, they will walk around it once on clockwise chanting the six-character truth, fingering their beads and praying for peace. Some people will walk around it several times. Some will place offerings in front of the pagoda.

Turning Prayer Wheel

Tibetan people believe in Lamaism. The believers must recite or chant Buddhism scriptures very often. For illiterate people, what they can do is to turn prayer wheels, with scriptures inside. Turning the prayer wheel is equivalent to chanting some scriptures and it has become routine work for Tibetan people. A lot of Tibetans keep portable prayer wheels at home. Prayer wheels are of different sizes and quality. But there is one thing in common, that is they all have scriptures inside. Followers of Yellow sect turn the wheel clockwise, while followers of Black sect turn it anticlockwise.

Religious Rituals in the New Year

Among many festivals, Tibetan people put much stress on the celebration of New Year’s Day by the Tibetan Calendar. Every year on 29th of the last month, the ritual of “expelling ghosts” will be performed. However, the date might be different from place to place. Monasteries as well as homes perform the ritual separately. According to the tradition, people will hold the ritual after dinner. The ritual originates from the totem worship in ancient time. It is called “Guduo” in Tibetan language.

On this day, people prepare a very special dinner called “Gutu”. For dinner people usually eat congee of barley or soup of Zanba. The special dinner “Gutu” consists of nine foodstuffs, barley flakes, peas, dough ball soup, radish and etc. To add to the festivity of the scene, people choose some symbolic things and stuff them into the wheat paste balls. Some symbolize luck and some symbolize different personalities. The stuffed paste balls and the dough balls are cooked together in a pottery pot into delicious soup. Before they eat Gutu soup, everybody rubs some parts of his body with a wet paste ball uttering these words like “Ah, the sufferings, pains and diseases all go away from me.” Then they put the paste ball into the pot. When all these are done, the hostess will distribute the soup for everyone with a cooking spoon. When someone finds the symbolized food which looks like the sun, the moon, books or statues in their bowls, others will stop eating and raise the cups for his good luck and happiness. When someone has the paste balls stuffed with sheep hair, stone or dairy products in their bowls, people will say he should be as gentle as the sheep hair, as strong-willed as the stone and as pure as milk. When someone has the paste balls stuffed with salt, pepper, porcelain piece or charcoal, people will say that he should not be lazy, should not be unforgiving and should not be cruel, and request him to sing a song as punishment. When a young girl has the paste ball stuffed with something resembling a naughty kid, people will laugh loudly and advise her to keep purity. If someone is not lucky enough to have the paste ball stuffed with a thorny fruit called Simare, other people will tell him to get along with people well and he has to drink wine and imitate the dog barking as punishment. In the end, people will pour the leftovers of the Gutu soup into the broken cooking pot, and wish it to carry the bad luck away by saying: “take all the bad luck away and never return. In this way, the special dinner comes to end.

When the time of expelling ghosts come, a man will light a torch, carry it to every room and shout “get out, get out”. Finally he throws it away on a crossroad nearby.

The ritual of expelling ghost is performed differently in different places. In some place, it is a quite complicated one. After the special dinner, people begin to perform it. One man carrying the broken pot with ghosts in precedes others who hold torch high and shout, “get out, get out, ghost”. They march towards a crossroad and the man leaves the broken pot there. Then they march back towards home and sing the praises for the gate:

Gate is a golden gate.

White cloth is cloud.

Stone threshold looks beautiful.

Wooden gate looks bright.

Auspicious gate faces east.

Sunshine and moonlight fall in,

With fortune and happiness.

Fortune and happiness fill the house,

Driving the ghosts away,

Driving the bad luck away.

Clean and clear we come back.

Open the golden gate.

After this, the gate is opened. A bonfire is lit near the threshold in the sitting room. Everyone is to jump over the fire. After that, someone in the room will splash water over people who have just finished the jumping. After these special activities, the ritual of expelling ghosts comes to an end.

Ghost Dance

This is a religious ritual popular in the northern part of Aba Prefecture. People make use of the ritual to pray for happiness and peace. In the last day of a year by Tibetan calendar, monasteries hold a meeting of dharma. Some lamas wear ancient costumes and masks, disguising themselves as ghosts. In groups they come out to the square center and dance to the accompaniment of drums, conch and cymbals. While they dance, they cry out in the hope of driving ghosts away.

Visiting Relatives

Visiting relatives is a common thing for nearly all nationalities. Simple though it may seem, it reflects the different customs of different nationalities. In Tibet, when visiting relatives, the visitor usually carries a basket on his/her back, filled with gifts. Baskets are covered with a cloth, so no one can see what’s inside. In addition, the visitor always takes a thermos flask of buttered tea and a plastic bucket of barley beer. These two are indispensable.

When a guest arrives, the host and hostess are very pleased. Their first words will be “ah, you’re welcome here.” Then they will begin to talk to each other on some easy topics, while drinking the tea and barley beer that the guest brought. After two or three hours’ chat, the guest will ask the host to accept the gifts in the basket. The host won’t take all the gifts, but will leave something like food or eggs in the basket, for the guest to take back. (Taking all the gifts would spoil a person’s good name). What’s more, the host will put something in the basket in return, some inexpensive things like fresh cabbage, fresh fruits or clothes for the children. The host will remember what’s been received, so that gifts of the similar value can be taken on a return visit some days later.
During the holidays, guests often stay very late.

Ritual to Mark a Girl’s Adulthood

In some parts of Tibet, a girl she is considered to have come of age when she reaches 17. Her parents always mark the event with a ritual, on the second day of the New Year by the Tibetan calendar. Parents prepare beautiful clothes and all kinds of ornaments. An expert woman will be invited to do the girl’s make-up. In rural areas small girls have two pigtails. They will have three pigtails by the age of 13 or 14, four at the age of 15. At 17 years old a girl may have several dozens of pigtails, which symbolizes her adulthood. Young men are allowed to court a girl with many pigtails. When the ritual is performed, her relatives and friends will come around to congratulate the girl.


not allowed to shoot eagles as they are regarded as sacred birds

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