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Tibetan Religious Practice PDF Print

Tibetan Sacrifice of the Water God

The sacrifice to the water god is not as solemn as the sacrifice to mountain god. People just fire a pile of firewood and make smoke offering in front of the house gate, or just tie sutra streamers to cords and ropes which will be hanged horizontally on the river surface and bank. Furthermore, people may take from river or well a little “fresh water”, which will be sprinkled to houses and tents or drunk by person and livestock. It is said that those sacrifices will bring prosperity for both person and livestock next year.

Sacrifices to the water god also have the custom of establishing a water god house near the spring mouth. Every year in the period of sacrificing, people will hang many new sutra streamers before and behind the house of water god, praying the fertility of plants and crops in the next year.

Tibetan Sacrifice to the Sacred Mountain

Mt. KailashBeing different from the mountain gods, the Sacred Mountains of boundless magical atmosphere and endless merits are the places that eminent monks had practiced Buddhism. So the mountains became the holy lands for people to pilgrimage. Walking around the Sacred Mountain can not only excise your body, but also purify your mind, especially for the pilgrims who came here faraway with a step, a kowtow, their long sacred journey will bring them boundless merits and virtues.

Exactly speaking, depending on the power of the Sacred Mountain is the same as depending on the Buddhist doctrine. Mountain God is the shelter for people of the present world, while Sacred Mountain sacrifice is the fundamental way of liberation. In Chinese translation they are both called “Sacred Mountain”. No matter how, every day, there are many pilgrims, supporting the old and carrying the young, walking around the mountains. The taboos about the behaviors on the top of mountains imperceptibly contribute much to the balance of ecosystem, for example: it is forbidden to kill live creatures on sacred mountain, to throw around the dirty things, to chop down the trees, etc. when walking around the snowy mountain, people should not shout loudly, which behavior, said by the aged, would disturb the mountain and incur the snow slide. In order to exchange for the prosperity of human and livestock, the peace of tribe, farmers and herdsmen of plateau sacrifice and offer the mountain gods by various ways, such as: climbing up the mountain; walking around the Mani stone piles and the territory of the mountain god; choosing an auspicious day to carry out the activity of Wei-Song and Arrow Offering; hanging the Sutra Streamers; scattering Lungta and so on.

Tibetan Wei-Song

BurningWei-Song is a kind of ancient and common Tibetan custom. People fire branches of pine trees and cypresses, leaves of herbs such as Artemisia argyi and heath to make cloudy smog, hence this kind of praying is also called smoke offering. The fragrance produced by burning the pine trees and cypresses, can not only bathe unlucky and dirty things of ordinary people, but also aromatize the palace of mountain god who will be pleased after smelling the aroma. According to the legend, Wei-Song came from the ancient tribe custom of welcoming brave fighters returning in triumph. In suburb, in order to clean out the dirt and dust on the fighters, people burned herbs and a pile of cypress branches, which will be dipped in water and them sprinkled to the brave fighters. By this way, the ancestors of plateau sacrificed gods, prayed for peace and victory, and gradually took this way as the main way to communicate with gods. Commonly, in ordinary days, Tibetans have the habit of Wei-Song, for example, every morning, in front of the gate, families burn some cedar branches matched with herbs to eliminate the evil and purify the air.

When there is a woman in the postpartum period, people will burn a heap of yak dung in front of gate to warn off the passers. Then people will pile up a scree pile, if a boy was born, people would pile up more chalk screes; if a girl was born, people would use other kind of screes and Wei-Song nearby the scree pile to get rid of the filthy atmosphere produced by procreation.

In the new year of Tibetan, coming back from the ceremony of expelling the evils, before entering home, people have to burn the mulberry branches to exclude the evils thoroughly.

If you going to visit temple to see who is practicing Buddhism solitarily, you have to use the prepared mulberry branches in front of the temple gate to bathe, lest polluting the pure environment.

Tibetan Prayer Flag (sutra streamer)

Prayer flagsThere are two kinds of Prayer flags: the standing type and the hanging type. Sutra streamers of the standing type are generally called sutra flags. 
The highest one could be tens of meters. On the top of the flagpole there are decorations such as the gilded Treasure Vase. Five-Colored Canopy, extails and so on.

The hanging type sutra streamers, which are hanged on the long ropes, are commonest in the places of sacred mountains and saint lakes. The longest one could be hundreds of meters. Every family hangs this kind of colorful sutra steamers on the top of door or the roof of house.

Prayer flagsSutra streamers can be divided into forms: one is flag cloth, which is printed with sutras, pictures, symbols and has five ground colors: blue, white, red, green and yellow. The other is sutra flag, which is used for sticking or hanging on the pole and is composed of the main streamer and the tongue of streamer. The main streamer is usually white: the tongue of streamer is sewed on the main streamer and has small cloths of blue, white, red and green color. Similar to the papery Lungta, the main contents of sutra steamers are Dharani Sanskrit Mantra, the Six Syllable Mantra, and Sanskrit Maintaining Mantra, Prayer Auspicious Sutra, Eulogy and so on.

In Lungta, the snow lion symbolizes the soil element because it lives in the top of mountain, which is formed by soil; the dragon living in water symbolizes the water element. Similar as the three-feet bird legend of ancient Han nationality, khyung (fabulous bird of enormous size) is the fire god of Tibetan in ancient times, so khyung symbolizes the five element; tiger symbolizes the wind element because wind comes from wood and tiger is the king of forest; furthermore, the horse flying in the center of Lungta symbolizes the origin of life.

Tibetan Butter Sculpture

Butter scuptureIn order to honor Sakyamuni and propagate the power of Buddha, in the year of 1409, from the first lunar month 8th to 15th of Tibetan calendar, the master Tsong-kha-pa called on ten thousand monks to hold a big Dharma prayer assembly in the Jokhang Monastery of Lhasa.

In this period, Tsong-kha-pa dreamed the thorns turned into bright lamps and weeds changed into fresh flowers. In order to flowers and trees, strange birds and beasts with butter, then put these offerings together with butter lamps in front of the Buddha imagines. Henceforth, this custom had been passed down, and was called”Jue-a-que-pa”(meaning the offerings on the first lunar month 15th of Tibetan calendar).

Butter sculptures are the art flowers blooming under freezing point. Although butter sculptures are named “flowers” in Chinese, they have diverse topics and abundant contents, such as the Buddha, Deity, Bodhisattva and Vajra: birds, beasts, fish and insects: mountains, rivers, trees, flowers and bonsais, etc. Those contents can compose various stories and form a whole stereograph. Those works started from October 15th of lunar calendar and completed on January 15th of the every year.


Cham dance“Vcham” was born in the eighth century A.D and now has a history of more than 1100 years. At that time, Tubo king Trisong Detsen invited the Indian eminent monk-master Guru Padmasambhava to manage the completion ceremony of Samyey Monastery in Tibet. According to the beast-imitating mask dance of local bon religion and Vajra dance of Tantra Buddhism, master Guru Padmasambhava created the Dharma assembly of “dancing for god”, in which monks danced to drive off the evils and reward gods for the consecration of Samyey Monastery.

This kind of dance had inherited and improved by later religious masters, and gradually became today’s scale. Now , Vcham has been spread to all over the Tibetan area such as Tibet, Qinghai, Gansu, Yunnan, etc. even the foreign countries such as Sikkim, Bhutan, Nepal, India, Bengalese, etc, have reserved this kind of ancient mystical dance.

The main content of Vcham is expelling and suppressing the evil spirits. Different Buddhist groups in different places may have some differences in Yidam and Guardian Deities they believing, therefore the date, procedure and costume fo Vcham may also have dissimilarities. But there is one thing in common, that is, all the dancers of Vcham are monks served in the temple and the common people couldn’t participate in.


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