April 21, 2012


Types of Tibetan Ceremonial Scarf (Zhwa-sgab-pa, Srid don rgyal rabs, vol. 1, p. 53, n. 64)

Zhwa-sgab-pa's book contains so many interesting aspects of Tibetan culture and one often forgets to consult it. (But some Tibetans suspect that  Zhwa-sgab-pa’s Srid don rgyal rabs was based on a (stolen) work of dGe-chos. See Hor-gtsang, Drang bden gyi bslus pa’i slong ma ba, pp. 139–146).  As for the Tibetan tradition of kha btags (“ceremonial scarf”), it is said to be influenced by the Indian tradition of  honoring or welcoming someone by offering a shawl. The etymology of bka btags seems to be “something that is hung (btags) around someone’s frontage (kha) (i.e. neck).” It is also called kha dar (gSar.bsgrigs) and perhaps also dar dkar. One might add here mjal dar as its synonym. There are several types and qualities of kha btags. The variety of kha btags depends on the occasion, size, color, status, and so on. There is another article in Tibetan on kha btags. Here is a random list:

1. nang mdzod ma rig gnyid sangs ma
2. dkon mchog rin chen ma
3. bar thon nyin bde ma
4. dom khor ma
5. phyis thon phrin las dar rgyas ma
6. a she
7. bang mdzod
8. zub phyi
9. phyi mdzod
10. bsod nams kha btags
11. tsam pa kha btags? (not mentioned by Zhwa-sgab-pa)
12. zub she (Onoda 2000/12), cf. zub phyi
13. bsod btags (Onoda 2000/12)
14. rtags brgyad ma (Onoda 2000/12)
15. srid zhi bde skyid (Onoda 2000/12)
16. nyin mo bde legs (Onoda 2000/12)
17. tshe lha ma (Onoda 2000/12)

Dung-dkar, however, alludes to oral tradition according to which kha btags was originally auspicious white  lines (thig dkar) drawn on collars of clothes strewn with floor (rtsam pa). I hope I interpret him correctly. Later under the Mongolian rule, kha btags became what they are now. Dung-dkar notes that no written sources in Tibetan can be found on kha btags. He seems to have been unaware of Zhwa-sgab-pa's footnote. He mentions three kinds of kha btags:

1. kha btags skya chen
2. kha btags ’dom gsum ma
3. kha btags nang mdzod

Shunzo Onoda, “An Old Tibetan Kha-bTags Preserved at the Mampukuji 萬福寺 Temple in Kyoto.” Kyoto: Bukkyo University, 2000–2012

Some kha btags related terms from the Tshig mdzod chen mo:

nang mdzod, a she, mdod she (To Lhasa and Beyond, p. 99).
kha btags (i.e. dar ram lha reg  nang gses su kha btags nang mdzod dang, a she, zub she, bsod btags sogs yod)
’jam dar (i.e. srin skud sogs las btags pa'i kha dar rigs shig)
dkyus btags (i.e. kha btags dkyus ma)
skyabs sgril (i.e. skyabs 'jug zhu ba'i yi ge sgril byed kyi kha btags)
skyel dar (i.e. skyel ma byed skabs ske la ga‑yog rgyu'i kha btags)
kha btags nyin mo bde legs (i.e. nyin mo bde legs zhes pa’i yi ge ’thag drub can gyi dar rigs shig)
kha phyi (i.e. kha btags spus zhan zhig)
kha bsod (i.e. bsod btags te, kha btags spus zhan zhig)
dga’ dar (dga’ ston gyi kha btags)
mgul dar (i.e. ske la ga‑yog rgyu'i kha btags)
sgang mdud (i.e. kha btags cha tshang ba gcig la brgyab pa’i srung mdud)
sgo dar (i.e. khang pa’i sgor btags pa’i kha btags)
sgron dar (g.yog bya’i kha btags)
chu ris ma (i.e. kha btags zub she chu ris ma)
mjal dar (i.e. mjal dus ’bul rgyu’i kha btags)
nyin mo bde legs (i.e. kha btags nang mdzod kyi bye brag cig kha btags nang mdzod las rtags brgyad ma, srid zhi bde skyid, nyin mo bde legs, tshe lha ma bcas rigs mi 'dra ba bzhi yod pa'i gsum par tshigs bcad sho lo ka bkod pa 'di lta ste, nyin mo bde legs mtshan bde legs, nyi ma'i gung yang bde legs shing, nyin mtshan ku tu bden legs pa, dkon mchog gsum gyi bde legs shog ces gsal yod)
snyan shal (i.e. snyan dar kha btags)
thugs gso’i mjal dar (i.e. sems sdug sel thabs su gtong ba'i kha btags)
dar dkar (i.e. kha btags dkar po)
nang mdzod (i.e. kha btags legs gras shig)
pur dar (yul) (i.e. phung po la ga‑yog rgyu'i kha btags)
bum dar (i.e. bum par ga‑yog bya'i kha btags)
tsha dar (i.e. me mda'i tsha kha lta ba dang, zhar 'phen glod de 'gran bsdur byed par rgyal kha lon mkhan la thob pa'i kha btags)
tshe lha ma (i.e. tshe dpag med kyi sku brnyan yod pa'i kha btags legs gras shig)
mdzod btags (i.e. kha btags yag po zhig)
zub she (i.e. kha btags kyi bye brag cig)
gzigs rten (i.e. zhu yig dang mnyam du 'bul rgyu'i kha btags dang dngos rdzas)
gzigs pa g.yo rten (i.e. zhu yig dang mnyam du 'bul rgyu'i kha btags dang dngos rdzas)
g.yang dar (i.e. g.yang mdar gdags bya'i kha btags, g.yang dar kha btags)
lag dar (i.e. kha btags mjal dar)
legs dar (yul) (i.e. legs pa'i rten 'brel mtshon byed kyi kha btags)
sems gso'i mjal dar (yul) (i.e. mi shi ba'i nang mi rnams la 'bul rgyu'i kha btags)
sog dar (i.e. sog lugs kyi kha btags sngon po zhig)
srid zhi'i bde skyid (i.e. kha btags led gras shig)
bsod btags (i.e. bsod nams kha btags zer ba'i kha btags zhan pa zhig)
lha gos (i.e. kha btags)
lha rdzas (i.e. kha btags)
lha reg kha btags
a she (i.e. kha btags legs gras gnyis pa) ()


Zhwa-sgab-pa, Srid don rgyal rabs (vol. 1, p. 53, n. 64). 
Shunzo Onoda, “An Old Tibetan Kha-bTags Preserved at the Mampukuji 萬福寺 Temple in Kyoto.” Kyoto: Bukkyo University, 2000–2012
Sir Charles Bell, The People of Tibet. [First published in 1928. Reprint:] Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1994, pp. 248-252. [Very useful information can be found here].


  1. You don't think it means 'tied around' (btags) an 'opening' (kha)?

    That could help explain tying it around water spouts, pitchers and the like.

    And what about the Sherpa (etc.) practice of using them in funerals to 'pull' the hearse?

    Dungkar Rinpoche's dictionary says it originally meant the white spot placed on the collar of a guest, and only later on in Mongol times it was replaced by a blue or yellow cloth wrapped around the neck.

    I sort of favor the idea that it goes back to the "ras-kyi kha-tshar" or fringed cloth (fringes from the cloth?) used in sutras as an offering. It's even used sometimes as an offering when a budding Bodhisattva makes the vow in front of a Buddha to eventually attain Buddhahood. (Search for the words in the Vienna site for verification.) This might help explain why the fringes (kha-tshar) are such a prominent part of the kha-btags.

  2. Dear D,

    You may be right, assuming that the custom of tying silk cloths around necks of vases precede that of tying them around necks of people.

    Of course kha is also used as a unit of measurement (as in one kha of ras), but if this can explain kha btags, I do not know.



  3. It's kind of uncanny how we both ran to look up "Kha-btags" in the Dungkar Rinpoche dictionary more or less at the same time this morning, isn't it? It's such a heavy book I don't usually run for it unless there is a very good reason. But something told me he would have something interesting to say.

    I was trying to imagine an ancient practice of actually tying them around people's mouths, but all I get is a very ridiculous picture in my mind that I have to dismiss ASAP.

    What about the meaning of 'woven surface' underlying kha-btags? Perhaps that would be too obvious... and therefore dubious.

    Some have tried to explain it to me as 'tied mouths,' in the sense of being bound to verbal agreement... It certainly carries with it a sense of 'sincerity' and 'integrity' in terms of its symbolism, wouldn't you say?

  4. Dear Dan,

    It is, indeed!

    Your "tying them around people's mouths" reminds of the (reported?) sinister function of ka btags, namely, to gag someone.

    As a principle, the obvious may not be dubious at all. But both "woven surface" and "tied mouth" somehow seem to speak against my instinct. But instincts are no tshad ma.

    How significant is its synonym mjal dar?

    I am sleepy now.


  5. D,

    Have you seen this thing about a very old Katag kept as a holy object at a temple in Kyoto, Japan? I got there through the blogspot Sitahu. Very interesting, I think. It also gives some names for different types.


  6. Dear D,

    Many thanks. I haven't seen it before. I added some names of kha btags found there to our list.