What is a Labtse Offering?
Labtse is a religious offering composed of giant arrows and spears, traditional Tibetan silk scarves (khatak), juniper leaves, sheep’s wool, and prayer flags. Labtse are generally huge permanent offerings to the mountain gods built on the apex of sacred mountains.
Labtse offerings are performed for the purpose of propitiating mountain gods to bring good fortune to the people of the surrounding communities. The arrows and spears are offered so that the mountain gods can use these implements to protect villagers when necessary. Once a mountain is designated as a labtse site, this mountain becomes a sacred mountain. Therefore, firing guns, hunting animals, chopping down trees, digging holes in the earth, creating mines and digging for minerals are all forbidden both on a labtse mountain and at locations in the vicinity of a labtse mountain.
Labtse ritual offerings are mostly performed by lay people in Amdo and involve many religious practices. In order to determine the site of a labtse, a lama or highly respected monk or tantric practitioner (ngakpa) must perform divinations to ascertain the ideal site. Labtse may only be built on extremely auspicious dates.
When building a labtse, a large hole in the earth must be dug. 7 young men, all of whom must have been born in a tiger year according to the traditional Tibetan calendar, engage in the work of digging. If men not born in a tiger year engage in this work, there is danger of unfortunate events such as earthquakes, landslides, lightning, or thunderstorms to occur.
The building of labtse must be completed within a single day. Otherwise, after having dug a hole in the earth, if the labtse is not completely built by the end of the day, demons can enter the unfinished labtse site. Once demons enter, many unfortunate events may occur to the surrounding villagers.
When building a labtse, a pit measuring a depth equal to the armspan of an adult man is dug. A double vajra, representing defense against destruction, is painted at the bottom of this pit. Various types of grain, jewels, precious metals, and other precious objects are also placed in the ground. A wooden pillar known as the ‘life pillar’ is fixed at the center. Various mantras are written onto the face of this pillar. The wood of freshly cut trees is also used to create giant, over-sized spears and arrows two or three times the size of a human man. This wood is decorated with multi-colored patterns. The trees must be freshly cut and must have grown to the east of the labtse site.
Once the arrows and spears are ready, they are tied together with sheep’s wool and traditional Tibetan offering scarves (khatak). Monks are then called to the labtse site to bless and consecrate it. Once built, the base of a labtse is never touched. However, every year on the 13th day of the 5th month of the Tibetan calendar, villagers climb to the labtse site and replace old arrows and spears with freshly made ones. This event is followed by a series of celebrations, which often include horse races and village-wide picnics.