Tibetan culture and art possess a history of more than 5,000 years, but the practice and depiction of Tibetan Buddhism has had by far the greatest influence on this culture. The development of Tibetan culture and art proceeded through four stages: prehistoric civilization before the 7th century; cultural stability during the Tubo Kingdom; high development during the Yuan Dynasty; and the height of cultural achievement attained during the Qing Dynasty.
The pre-historic stage includes all development from the ancient civilization that appeared during the New Stone Age some 5,000 years ago to the founding of the Tubo Kingdom in the 7th century. A salient feature of this civilization is the founding and development of the Bon, an animist religion. Findings from the ruins of the Karub New Stone Age Site in Qamdo and rock paintings found in Ngari, which have been dated from all periods from the late Old Stone Age to the Tubo Kingdom in the 7th century, all display a concentrated expression of the achievements of pre-historic civilization and reveal the budding of pre-historic art.
The Tubo Kingdom in the 7th century was an important period which witnessed the creation of Tibetan writing and the spread into Tibet of Buddhism from India and China’s Tang Dynasty. Collusion and mutual assimilation of different cultures and arts constituted a major feature of this period. Cultural and artistic achievements made during this period of time include the Jokhang, Ramoche, Changzhug and Samye monasteries. These monasteries are a combination of architecture, paintings and sculptures, the styles of which were disseminated in accordance with the world model of Buddhism. The major architectural features of these monasteries were built using a style unique to Tibet, and also incorporating influences from India and the Central Plains of the Tang Dynasty. A unique culture was thus created and firmly planted in the soil of Tibet
During the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), the culture and art of Tibetan Buddhism developed rapidly. Tibet’s first encyclopedia-like catalogue on Gangyur and Dangyur of Tibetan Tripitaka was compiled; Buddhist masters who played key roles in the development of Tibetan culture and art, including Sagya Pandit Gonggar Gyaincain, Purdain Rinqenzhub and Zongkapa, emerged. Works of historical significance created during this period of time include the History on Buddhism by Purdain, the Green Annals, the Red Annals, the New Red Annals and the Records on Five Sutras in Tibet. There was an exuberance of literary works, including mottos, philosophic poems, fables and stories. Classics created during that period of time include Philosophic Poems of Milha Riba and Mottos of Sagya, which were very popular amongst the people of Tibet. Astronomy and calendar making experienced progress, with the Tibetan Epoch founded in 1027. Tibetan medicine branched out into the South and North schools. Architecture, painting and sculpture became increasingly perfected. Architectural works of importance created during this period of time include the Guge Kingdom city and the Sagye, Toding, Xalhu, Natang and Palkor monasteries. Major art schools include the Mentang and Garma Gagzhi Painting Schools, and the Mentang New Painting School. These painting schools, famous for their salient features and artistic style, exerted a deep influence on the creation of Buddhist art in the Central Plains. Beijing and Hangzhou emerged as the two Tibetan Buddhist art centers of China during the Yuan and Ming dynasties (1271-1644). Use of block making and printing technologies during the Yuan Dynasty injected fresh blood into the propagation of Tibetan Buddhist culture and art.
The Central Government followed a policy of inheriting and developing outstanding Tibetan culture and art following the Democratic Reform in Tibet in 1959. Rare cultural relics were subjected to better care and protection. In the last 10 years, the Central Government earmarked more than 200 million yuan for repairing the Jokhang Monastery, the Potala Palace, and some other monasteries. Folk works were rescued and compiled. King Gesar, an epic which had been passed down on the lips of Tibetan artists, is a state research project, with a special organization created for the sole purpose of rescuing and researching this epic. Efforts are also being made to promote the development of Tibetan folk literature, operas, music, dance and ballads. After the founding of the Tibet Autonomous Region, many talented Tibetan artists have emerged; and many outstanding literary works created. In the last 10 years, some 20 art troupes have been sent on performance tours of foreign countries. The same period also saw over 50 Tibetan studies organizations throughout China achieving great successes in research. There has also been progress in research into the development of Tibetan medicine. At present, Tibet boasts one Tibetan medical school, 10 Tibetan medicine hospitals and three Tibetan medicine factories. They employ close to 10,000 dedicated people. Tibetan literature and art shine move brightly.
Folk Music and Dance
Tibetan folk music and dance have been kept alive in the homes of Tibetans living in Tibet, India, and the West. At parties individuals are often asked to sing, and groups may dance. The songs offer greetings and good wishes or tell stories of drinking chang (Tibetan beer) or of lost love. Themes and styles vary greatly depending on the region in Tibet the songs are from. Folk songs are usually sung a capella or to the accompaniment of the pi wang (fiddle) or the dran yen (long-necked lute). Most folk dances are performed in a circle.
In India folk songs have been taught to new generations at the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA). The Dalai Lama established TIPA within six months of his escape from Tibet in 1959. TIPA continues to train hundreds of performers in folk dance and music as well as lhamo opera. In the United States, Chaksampa, a group of talented Tibetan musicians who are at this Festival, was organized to perform Tibetan music and dance throughout North America. Some Tibetan artists in Europe, Australia, and the United States, as well as in refugee communities, are recording folk music, adding new instruments, and introducing contemporary themes to their repertoire.