1936 - 1937 Mission Diary

The official diary of the Gould mission to Lhasa sent by the British government. Read more about the mission diary.

February 14th, Sunday.

see photographs below

Richardson had a very busy day returning calls on the Shapes and other senior officials.

We awoke this morning to find it snowing hard - the first snowfall we have had since early autumn. Luckily the sun came out at nine o'clock and the snow stopped.

There is an important ceremony today at Nechung, the small monastery below Drepung, where the State Oracle lives. All officials must attend. The Regent was carried there in his golden palanquin preceded and followed by monk and lay officials in ceremonial dress. The recent snowfall not only enhanced the brilliant colour of the procession but served to keep down the dust which so often prevents one getting good photographs. As soon as the Regent, the Prime Minister, the Shapes and the other officials had taken their places at the top of a few steps between the open courtyard and the main monastery ball, a lama dance started and continued for about an honour. It was much the same as the dance at the Potala but on a much smaller scale.

While the officials were having tea and refreshments the Oracle, dressed splendidly in cloth of gold and with tall headdress of gold and turquoise, entered the central hall by a side door. For some time there was silence in the open courtyard but from inside could be heard the incessant and monotonous beating of drums and cymbals as the Oracle gradually went into a trance. Suddenly he emerged from the hall very red in the face and shaking all over. As he was surrounded by officials in a somewhat confined space at the head of the courtyard steps it was difficult to see exactly what happened. At one time he became violent and one could see his attendant monks with difficulty holding on to his outstretched arms. Then he approached the Regent and whispered to him for some time. His message to the general public, we heard afterwards, was, unintelligible, but in any case it is usually heard only by his attendant monks who interpret it according to their own lights.

After the Oracle had been helped back to the inner hall the officials dispersed and the picturesque procession returned to Lhasa through the rapidly melting snow.

The fixing of a date for the departure of the main body of the Mission was a matter of studying the Calendar and discovering the first auspicious date for starting a journey subsequent to the main ceremonies of the New Year. The forenoon of Wednesday the 17th February having been found to be auspiclous for departure, while certain other days were inauspicious for farewells, it followed that all farewell calls had to be paid and received between the 14th and 16th.

The first Call to be paid was one of Ceremony, in uniform, on the Regent and on the Prime Minister jointly at the Potala. (A question cropped up as to whether this call should have been preceded by, a ceremonial farewell visit to the shrine of the late Dalai Lama, but, inasmuch as no such visit had been paid when the Mission arrived at Lhasa, it was ruled that a farewell visit would be inappropriate. The question of a visit to the "Dalai Lama" should be noted for consideration when the Political Officer next visits Lhasa.) The visit being a formal one, it was also brief, and little was said except that the Regent was appreciative of the help which had been afforded by the presence of the Mission and very grateful to the Government of India for having agreed to supply arms. In the evening we had privilege of being invited by Tsarong to the third of the main celebrations of the New Year - the family celebration which takes place in the altar room of a private house.

On the third day of the New Year in the evening there takes place in every household a simple domestic ceremony in which is reflected the patriarchal nature of the family.

The master of the house takes his seat in the best room which contains the family altars before which are now set out the traditional New Year offerings: barley meal, butter ornaments, rice, fried cakes, ram's head fashioned in butter, and pots of green sprouting barley shoots. The master's seat is a canopied divan which varies in height with the rank and dignity of the owner. Besides him on his left sit his wife and children all in their best clothes. If he is of high rank the master will be wearing a robe of yellow silk patterned with Imperial five-clawed dragons, and a round flat hat of red silk heavily bordered with fur and topped by an ornament of gold turquoise and other semi-precious stones surmounted by a ruby or amethyst button - a survival of the Chinese buttons of rank. His wife will be wearing over her skirt the striped apron worn by all married women; a brocade blouse with a scarf of plum coloured silk across her breast and one of rainbow colours round her shoulders. Her head dress will be heavy with great corals and turquoises and hung with closely woven streamers of seed pearls; more gold and turquoise ornaments set with precious stones hang down from her shoulders, and on her breast is a large star-shaped charm box of gold studded with turquoise and diamonds. Other relations who may be present sit on cushions along one side of the room on the left of the family.

The steward brings in a silver tea pot with spout and, handle in the shape of gaping golden dragons. (Tea takes a great part in all Tibetan ceremony). Then the Tashi Chema is handed round. This is a pile of barley mean and another of grain on a wooden tray ornamented with one or two tall sticks of coloured butter, rather like miniature totem poles. Each person in turn picks up a little of the meal and grain and throws it in the air, for luck. A silver bowl of Chang (barley beer) follows, into which each dips the third finger and with finger and thumb sprinkles a little of the beer in the air. Bowls of a root, not unlike truffles cooked in butter, and of rice are set in front of each person. These are auspicious food of which each must eat a little. After this a woman servant holds up a bowl of Chang in front of the master and the other servants lining up behind her dance and sing a song of good wishes. The steward then pours out chang from the silver bowl for the master. Three draughts must be drunk, the cup being filled after each draught. When the master has drunk the steward respectfully hangs a white silk scarf round his neck. The master then gives chang to each member of the family in the same way and hangs scarves round their necks after they have drunk. When chang has been given to all the family the servants come in each with his cup or bowl and kneel before the master or one of the family who pours out chang for them in the same way. The servants then bring in trays of food which are laid in front of the family as offerings from the servants. The servants then take off their hats, bow and put out their tongues. The presents are taken away and all move off to dinner.

It is all very simple and the atmosphere although dignified is friendly too. It would be hard to find a people who can keep up their traditions with greater dignity and less self-consciousness than the Tibetans.

The morning was taken up with paying farewell calls, first on the Regent privately, next on the Kashag, and finally on the Prime Minister privately.

Author: Hugh Richardson & Frederick Spencer Chapman [see handwritten annotations in Diary by Hugh Richardson in MS. Or. Richardson 2, Bodleian Libary, Department of Oriental Collections, University of Oxford]

Page Reference: Pt XIV p.5

'Kate' Tsarong


'Kate' Tsarong

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Jigme Taring


Jigme Taring

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