July 18, 2014


The initial question I have posed was why Tibetan books (dpe cha / po ti) are sometimes painted red on the four sides. I have been trying to find some answers (even silly or wild ones) in written sources but thus far without success. (a) One explanation would be that it is painted red as a means of protection against insects or worms. (b) Another explanation is that the practice of painting books red began during the Glang-dar-ma’s persecution of Buddhism in Tibet. Painting books red was intended to give an impression that such books are stained with blood (and already desecrated) and that thus they would be spared from desecration and destruction. This is a popular explanation that I have heard during my monkish days in South India. In either case, painting books red may be seen as a means of protection, that is, either against malignant tiny beings or against malignant human beings. In either case, I have no written sources and my statements remain khungs med lung med. I would be thankful for any written source.

Feedbacks including from a student of mine (i.e. Tashi Wangdi), however, suggest that Tibetan books are also painted in other colors, and that color of books (like the color of hats) rather suggests a certain school affiliation. The bKa’-brgyud-pas, perhaps like the rNying-pa-pas, would rather color their books red, the dGe-lugs-pas yellow, the Bon-pos blue, and so on. Determining a relative chronology of these practices would be helpful but it would be difficult. The questions that still remain are when did these customs begin and for what reasons.
Theoretically there would have been other reasons and later on a specific color would have become a symbol of school affiliation. Or, each school might have had a different reason.


  1. I thought red hat school books all had red edged pages, while yellow hat school books had yellow edged pages, and Sakya books always had purple edged pages.
    If you believe this, you might also believe that gtan-zhal blog I wrote in your honor.
    One idea: it was originally dri-bzang, or saffron, that was painted around the book-edges to infuse the pages with blessings.

  2. I think, at least in more recent centuries, that there probably was a relationship between the color on the side of a book and the school associated with its production. In my perusal of Tibetan xylograph editions, I have noticed yellow-edged books published at Bla brang, sKu 'bum, Chab mdo Byams pa gling, and lCags po ri (all dGe lugs affiliated) and red-edged books from rTsib ri, sDe dge, and other non-Dge lugs affiliated monasteries. But I also have not seen mention of this trend in any textual source.

    1. Dear Ben Nourse, thanks for drawing that aspect to our attention. I think it does make sense. The various schools do tend to have their color preferences or preferences even for shades of color. D.