Tibetan culture developed under the influence of a number of factors. Tibet's specific geographic and climactic conditions- its altitude, short growing season, and cold weather- have encouraged reliance on pastorialism, as well as the development of a different cuisine from surrounding regions. Contact with neighboring countries and cultures- including India, China, and Mongolia- have influenced the development of Tibetan culture, but the Himalayan region's remoteness and inaccessibility have preserved distinctive local influences. Buddhism has exerted a particularly strong influence on Tibetan culture since its introduction in the 7th Century. Art, literature, and music all contain elements of Buddhist religion, and Buddhism itself has adopted a unique form in Tibet, influenced by the Bön tradition and other local beliefs.
Tibetan art is deeply religious in nature, a form of sacred art. The art of Tibet may be studied in terms of influences which have contributed to it over the centuries.
As Mahayana Buddhism emerged as a separate school in the 4th century BC it emphasized the role of bodhisattvas, compassionate beings who forego their personal escape to Nirvana in order to assist others. From an early time various bodhisattvas were also subjects of statuary art. Tibetan Buddhism, as an offspring of Mahayana Buddhism, inherited this tradition. A common bodhisattva depicted in Tibetan art is the Chenrezig deity (Avalokitesvara), often portrayed as a thousand-armed saint with an eye in the middle of each hand, representing the all-seeing compassionate one who hears our requests.
More specifically, Tibetan Buddhism is a subset of Tantric Buddhism, also known as Vajrayana Buddhism for its common symbolism of the vajra, the diamond thunderbolt (known in Tibetan as the dorje). Most of the typical Tibetan Buddhist art can be seen as part of the practice of tantra.
The indigenous shamanistic religion of the Himalayas is known as Bön. Bon contributes a pantheon of local tutelary deities to Tibetan art. In Tibetan temples (known as lhakhang), statues of the Buddha or Padmasambhava are often paired with statues of the tutelary deity of the district who often appears angry or dark.
Tibetans are very conservative in their dress, and though some have taken to wearing Western clothes, traditional styles still abound. Women wear dark-colored wrap dresses over a blouse, and a colorfully striped, woven wool apron signals that she is married. Men and women both wear long sleeves even in the hot summer months.
A Khata is a traditional ceremonious scarf given in Tibet. It symbolizes goodwill, auspiciousness and compassion. It is usually made of silk and white symbolising the pure heart of the giver.
The khata is a highly versatile gift. It can be presented at any festive occasions to a host or at weddings, funerals, births, graduations, arrivals and departure of guests etc. The Tibetans commonly give a kind acknowledgment of "Tashi Delek" (meaning good luck) at the time of presenting.
Tibetan architecture contains Chinese and Indian influences, and reflects a deeply Buddhist approach. The Buddhist prayer wheel, along with two deer or dragons, can be seen on nearly every Gompa in Tibet. The design of the Tibetan Chörtens can vary, from roundish walls in Kham to squarish, four-sided walls in Ladakh.
The most unusual feature of Tibetan architecture is that many of the houses and monasteries are built on elevated, sunny sites facing the south, and are often made out a mixture of rocks, wood, cement and earth. Little fuel is available for heat or lighting, so flat roofs are built to conserve heat, and multiple windows are constructed to let in sunlight. Walls are usually sloped inwards at 10 degrees as a precaution against frequent earthquakes in the mountainous area.
The Tibetan folk opera, known as Ache Lhamo, which literally means "sister goddess", is a combination of dances, chants and songs. The repertoire is drawn from Buddhist stories and Tibetan history.
The Tibetan opera was founded in the 14th century by Thangthong Gyalpo, a Lama and a bridge builder. Gyalpo and seven recruited girls organized the first performance to raise funds for building bridges, which would facilitate transportation in Tibet. The tradition continued, and llhamo is held on various festive occasions such as the Linka and Shoton festival.