Wooden Bowls Play a Key Role in Tibetan Culture
Wooden bowls play an important role in Tibetan culture and Tibetan people's life. In Tibet, every family has wooden bowls. There are always two wooden bowls in a common Tibetan family, a big one and a small one, the former for the father and the latter for the mother. Even to this day, the father's bowl is larger than the mother's. If a couple happens to visit another family, the latter will be sure to serve the wife tea in a smaller bowl than her husband; otherwise, it would be considered impolite. When you travel to Tibet, you can see most local Tibetan people, Tibetan pilgrims in particular, carry a wooden bowl if the leave their home. They use the bowl to drink butter tea, eat tsaba or other food and drink.
Wooden bowl is a necessity in Tibetan daily life.
A crack in the wooden bowl is regarded as a sign of ill luck, and the bowl must be replaced. Now that china bowls have become popular, every family uses them as spares for guests. If the edge of the china bowl is clipped, it is also regarded as ill luck and cannot be used, especially by the guests. They avoid drinking tea from a cracked bowl in the early morning, and if they should do so accidentally, those who believe in this taboo stay at home the whole day just to avoid disaster.
It is cold in the northwestern part of Southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region and mild in the southeast. People wear leather robes in the northwest to keep out the cold, while pulu (a kind of vegetable fiber) woolen garments are adopted in the southeast. While the garments are of different materials, they are both very loose with very broad cuffs and are very comfortable to wear. In the day, when it is sunny and warm, one can push up the sleeves to cool down; at night, one can sleep in the same clothes.
Both leather robes and pulu woolen garments have a belt around the waist, and when the belt is fastened, the front part becomes a hollow pocket in which one can put many daily necessities. One dispensable article in the pocket of every traveler is a wooden bowl, as it is very important to use one's own bowl. An average wooden bowl is cheap but good, and common people can afford it.
You can purchase some wooden bowls at a reasonable price.
In Tibet, everyone who leaves home for a trip carries a wooden bowl in this way.The wooden bowls of the balladeers are the largest and "can hold 4.5 kilo of butter tea." Whenever the balladeers perform in the open at fairs or in marketplaces, they place their wooden bowls at the side, asking for tips. Then, the wooden bowl has an additional use, to hold money or other things.
Monks also use wooden bowls. People who know the monasteries well can tell which monastery the monk is from based on the shape of the bowl. The iron-club lamas always move the bowl from one hand to the other playfully, which is quite dazzling. In religious meetings, when the iron-club lama keeps order, his wooden bowl is an emblem of authority that is used to knock the head of those who do not observe the order, and they dare not respond.
Clergy and laypeople making obeisance to the Dalai Lama in the morning were usually awarded three bowls of butter tea. While they listened respectfully to the Dalai Lama or the prince regent, they sipped the butter tea from their bowls constantly.
When a person dies, the other family members fill the wooden bowl that he or she used for butter tea and place it before the corpse. On the seventh day after the sky burial, the family as well as relatives and friends follow the priest in charge to the bank of the Lhasa River to hold a ceremony wishing the dead person's spirit safety and peace. In the ceremony, they lay the wooden bowl in front of the dead person before them and repeatedly fill it with tea to wish the person a good voyage. Finally, they pour the tea out of the wooden bowl, clean it, and give it to the priest. After that, the bowl belongs to the priest. This is a rule in the burial custom: The priest in charge of the celestial burial possesses the bowl every time after the dead body is buried. If the family wants to keep the dead person's wooden bowl as a memento, they must buy it from the priest.
When you travel to Tibet, you can buy a wooden bowl as a souvenir. Barkhor Street is the best place for travellers to buy souvenir. You can find all kinds of local Tibetan handicrafts on this busy street.