It is a Tibetan custom to offer a khata (ཁ་བཏགས།) or greeting scarf to friends, relatives or guests as a way of indicating your honorable intentions, and wishes of happiness. When given as a farewell gesture it symbolizes a safe journey. When given to arriving guests it symbolizes welcome.
Why Do Tibetans Have the Custom of Offering Khata?
Because there was no silk in Tibet, Tibetan people used to offer animal skins as gifts. According to Bon historical record, during the time of the ninth king Degong Jayshi, people would place sheep wool around the neck and head for some religious rituals. This custom has been handed down from that time. Over time, people started making scarves and using silk. So, the scarf replaced the plain sheep’s wool and people put scarves on the neck and head. This is how the custom of khata came into being.
The Meaning of Offering Khata
The khata symbolizes purity and compassion. Its main colour is white, symbolizing the pure heart of the giver, though it is also quite common to find yellow-gold, blue and red khata as well in Tibet. They are often placed around the necks of statues and hung on the top of Thangka paintings. It is an ancient custom to bring a Khata when visiting a temple, shrine, guru, or teacher. This is a way of showing gratitude for the kindness of your teacher and the gems of their teachings.
How Do Tibetan People Present Khata?
Tibetan people see khata as a very important gift, so offering Khata has its own ordination. People usually fold the khata into a double layer and hold it with two hands to offer. They usually bend 90 degrees and put their hands above their head when they offer to respected and honored people, such as the Buddha, a parent, teachers and elders. You can put the khata in their hands if giving it to a parent or elder. You can put it in front of the throne if it’s Buddha. If elders present Khata to young people, elders can put the Khata around the neck or on the hand of the young people.