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Red and Yellow: the Mystery of Tibetan Buddhism Architecture


Red and yellow, the mystery of Tibetan Buddhism architecture

Red is the symbol of bravery. Nowadays, people paint red on the temple walls in deference to ancient people painting red on the tombs.

Red is the color of blood. The ancient Bon religion in Tibet involved the slaughter of thousands of animals to worship a deity. Tibetan Buddhism reflects this tradition, and paints all the religious infrastructures red.

Red is the symbol of bravery. It is said that the painted red tomb on Mount Qiongjiezong is the tomb of Princess Wencheng.

There are also Tibetan buildings painted in yellow including temples and reading rooms. The earliest yellow infrastructure recorded is the “Buzi Golden Pavilion.” As we can see from these examples, yellow is important to Buddhism.

Buildings of significance are mostly painted in yellow such as the hall in which people celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday. The most important halls and pavilions in the temples are always painted in yellow such as the main hall of Qiangba Temple, Minzhulin Temple. The house on Bakuo Street is painted yellow to commemorate Tsangyang Gyatso.

Sacred color of the monk costume

According to historic documents, even a patch of yellow on the clothes of an average person caused people to salute him. It tells us that yellow was an exclusive color for monks. Monks wore yellow costumes to distinguish themselves from the “Zan” and “Zanpu,”,government officials who wore red uniforms.

An ancient story tells how yellow became the sacred color of Buddhism. When Prince Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism, left the throne to live a simple and thrifty life, he wore the white cloth that was used to wrap dead bodies. The cloth was tanned by the sun and moistened by the rain, and became wheat colored.

Yellow was slowly replaced by red because Tibetan ethnicities increased their exchanges with Han ethnicities. To differentiate from the yellow that the royal family used, they changed into dark colors. Dark red is a mixture of red and black.

Today, Tibetan Buddhist monks normally wear red costumes. Yellow ones are seldom worn. Dark red costumes are frequently seen in Tibet because it’s Tibetan Buddhism’s special color.

Many say that colors are used to distinguish the sects of Buddhism. But that is incorrect as Tibetan Buddhist monks wear red monk costumes and only habited men are allowed to wear yellow gowns.

By Jiang Haiwen

Editor: Dong Lin

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