Origin of Ancient Tibetan Social Customs

“Gedun Choephel, one of the most progressive Tibetan scholars of this century, was born in Rekong, Amdo province in 1905. As a youth he studied at Tashi Khyil monastery in Amdo and later at the monastic university of Drepung near Lhasa. An exceptionally gifted and often controversial figure, h was at once a scholar, historian, literary innovator, translator, artist, poet, musician and traveler. He visited both India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and developed highly nationalistic aspirations for Tibet. He passed away in Lhasa in 1951”.

Excerpts from “The White Annals” by Gedun Choephel:

  • Those [Tibetans] who were strong-spirited were called rgyal.
  • Males were termed as pho.
  • The king was designated as rGyal-pho and his queen as Mo-sman.
  • Attire of Tibetans consisted of robes derived from animal skins and women endowed themselves with red dyes on their cheeks.
  • Meals were spread on carpets on the floor (gden-sha: carpet meat).
  • Gold and silver ornaments ewre in wide usage. Gold, silver, copper and lead were the minerals to be found in abundance in tibet.
  • Men wore their decorative emblems on their arms, to distinguish their rank in the social hierarchy.
  • Barley, what and peas were the staple crops cultivated. Yaks, sheep, pigs, ewes (female sheep) and horses were maintained in a domestic household.
  • Earth burial prevailed in early times.
  • As yet Tibet had no written script of her own and calculations were charted through symbolic allusions: either signs were drawn on a wooden slate, or with the assistance of knots on a thread.
  • The King was the chief arbiter of justice. Punishment for minor offenses were severe. Punishment for major offenses was still harsher, witnessed in the extraction of eyes for males and the mutilation of nose and limbs for females.
  • These corporal acts were abolished during Khri-srong’s reign under pledge of oath (according to the rBa-bzhad), though the king and the ministers took exemption from the oath.
  • Conclusion:
    • In bringing light to the social customs of the past, we have to depend solely upon foreign accounts. In fact certain customs vis-a-vis dress styles were scarcely written about by its own people. For instance, the wearing of the pang-gdan (apron) of assorted colouring, the spa-drug (head ornament) by Lhasa women and the wearing of the fur cap with four flaps on either side by the menfolk have never been mentions in the books written by Tibetans themselves. And perhaps 500 years from the present, future generations will be ignorant of our manner of attirement. It is unfortunate that with the exception of a few scattered information which we can ferret from legendary tales about other people, nothing more can be gauged.

Posted by: Jigme32

One thought on “Origin of Ancient Tibetan Social Customs

  1. Dawa

    There is a movie about Gedun Choepel called “Angry Monk”. It is interesting and I learnt more about him such as his paintings and translation of Kama Sutra in Tibetan! He is a talented person much needed at that time in Tibet’s history but not recognized by the Tibetans or more like the ruling elites as such.
    In our times, we the younger generation donot recognize the wealth of information about our culture and history that our parents and grandparents hold. We should tap it before its too late. Next time any of us are with our parents try to learn more about our culture and history by asking questions.

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