Tibet's culture is unique in the world. Due to its extreme environment and high altitudes, it has formed its own unique customs over thousands of years. It is one of the aspects of Tibet that most visitors will find most intriguing. Tibetan's hospitality is legendary and many Tibetans find it a great honor to welcome guests into their homes and treat them to a wonderful evening of food, wine, and dancing. Tibet's distinctive communal cultures such as etiquette, dress, marriage, and burial ceremonies are colorful, unique, and unforgettable.
Etiquette and Ways of Greeting:
Presenting a Hada (a white woven scarf which symbolizes purity and loyalty) is a traditional practice in Tibet to show respect and hospitality. Hadas is also presented by Tibetans when they visit parents, worship the Buddha, see somebody off, and welcome someone home. For the one who is presenting Hada, he /she should raise the Hada above his/her shoulder and bow. The person receiving the Hada is required to accept with his two hands. When Tibetans greet each other, they use long words. They would add 'la' after the name to show their respect. While everybody is being greeted, the listener must listen carefully without any impatience. They always express certain verbosity in saying goodbye. In particular, if the host is elderly, they are repeatedly given expressions of good wishes, auspiciousness, safety, and good fortune.
Rite of Passage for Tibetan Girls:
In some areas of Tibet, when a daughter reaches the age of 16, a coming of age ceremony/party is held on the second day of the Tibetan New Year. On this day, parents prepare beautiful clothes and various ornaments for their newly grown-up girl. After the rite of passage, there are some noticeable changes about the young woman. Her hairstyle, clothing, ornaments, and name will be changed to show her newly acquired womanhood. Braiding their hair into more than ten braids, girls are particularly subject to customs relating to headgear which is called "heavenly head" ("wearing the head of the sky"). It is an initiation rite practiced in all Tibetan-inhabited areas, but its meaning varies from place to place. It is as grand as a marriage ceremony and its purpose is to show that the girl is grown up and is available for marriage.
Tibetan Songs and Dances:
Tibetan folk songs and dances are an indispensable part of every Tibetans' life, especially during festivals or important events. Being named as the "Ocean of Songs and Dance", Tibet has several unique forms of singing and dancing: Guoxie (circle dance), is an informal dance popular in countryside of Tibet; Duixie (tap dance), is usually accompanied by stringed instruments; and Zhuoxie (drum dance) that is popular mainly in Lhoka, Lhasa, and Xigaze. Their melodious love songs, with bursts of hearty laughter, keep reverberating over the grassland. Tibet also has the Ghost Dance, Mask Dance and Guozhuang Dance, each of which represents Tibetan local customs.
After the Tibetan girl's rite of passage, she is eligible for marriage. One of the most important and interesting parts of a Tibetan's life is the wedding ceremony. During the wedding ceremony, the bride and groom will kneel down in front of the groom's parents and a photo of the Buddha while monks chant. The bride will then take her ring finger and flick milk tea three times to salute heaven, earth, and the Buddha. The wedding feast will then begin. Sometimes the groom and the bride are nearly buried beneath the large number of Hadas draped across their necks. When the ceremony is over, a party is held, at which everyone sings and dances till dawn. The wedding ceremony can be as short as one day, but frequently can be as long as ten. During the celebrations, the host will prepare sumptuous food, tea and wine for the guests, who will enjoy themselves to their heart's content.
Over thousands of years, the Tibetan people have created their own unique style of clothing that is adapted to the land, weather and way of life, as well as the history, culture, beliefs, and character of the local people. Each area of Tibet has its own distinct style of clothing. Tibetan clothing consists of a robe and shirt. The Tibetan robe worn by men is broad and is normally fastened under the right arm, while the women's are slightly narrower with or without sleeves. Men typically wear white shirts with high collars, while women wear various colors with turndown collars. The wearing of aprons is very popular among Tibetan women, as it is considered to be a privileged dressing style specially reserved for the married women.
The most common burial in Tibet is the Celestial Burial or Sky Burial. It is the show of Tibetans' respect for nature and an understanding of life. Sky Burial is how commoners have been buried for centuries. A sky burial is not considered suitable for children who are less than 18, pregnant women, or those who have died of infectious disease or accident. The ritual of sky burial usually begins before dawn. The corpse is offered to the vultures which are regarded as the "Sky Dancer", and they are believed to take the soul into the heavens, which is understood to be a windy place where souls await reincarnation into their next lives. This mystical tradition arouses curiosity among those who are not Tibetan. However, only the funeral party is allowed present at the ritual, and they all strongly object to visits by the merely curious.
A sample tour taking you to admire Tibet:
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