Khata is an informal term and Jael-dhar is the formal term for traditional Tibetan offering scarf. Khatas are made of cotton, silk or other materials. They look more like a long scarf and have auspicious symbols or mantras inscribed or woven into the fabric. It represents the sincerity of one’s offering, with no negative thoughts or motives in mind. They come predominantly in shades of white or ivory, due to the purity of the color, but you will also find them in Blue, Red, Green and Yellow/Gold Yellow. It is a part of Tibetan way of life from birth to death and between. It is also used as a sign of recognition of one’s love or respect for another. The offering of Khata is probably one of the most well known customs of Tibetan culture. One could call the Khata a very reusable Tibetan bouquet. In fact, a specific Khata could travel the world over.
Historically, Khatas have been used in the Tibetan culture for many centuries. There are three schools of thought, due to the neglect in small day-to-day customs being put in writing, these have been mostly transferred by word of mouth through the generations.
One school believes that it started in the 7th Century AD during the rule of King SongTsen Gompo. He would present any minister or citizen who did a good job with a skin of a prized animal, like tigers, leopards. foxes or others. With the advent of Buddhism in Tibet in the 8th century as a State religion, the then King Trisong Deutsen, Guru Rinpoche (Acharya Padmasambhava), Abbot Shantarakshita and others leaders, discouraged the giving of animal skin, as it required the killing of an animal for the fur or skin. Aware of the Indian tradition of giving offerings of sets of new clothing to the teachers or Guru, the tradition of giving the skin of prized animals was soon replaced with expensive brocades from China. Then to the present day Khatas with the passage of time.
The second school of thoughts say that it was prevalent in the nomadic communities of Tibet before the advent of Buddhism, even up to the Chinese invasion in 1950s in some remote parts of Utsang and some regions close by, and may still be used, traditionally people would put Tsampa on the shoulders of people that came to their homes for work or visit to signify the purity of their wishes of respect, welcome or farewell. This ceremony was called Kanak. It was put on the right shoulder on men and left on women. It was decoratively displayed with symbols and greetings on floors to welcome high lama or officials, which is still done to this day. Tsampa, a roasted barley or any roasted grain flour was and is the staple diet in Tibet. The ceremony was done on all aspects of day-to-day life and with time the need for putting it around vases full of water offerings moved it to white woolen threads and eventually to present day Khatas.
The third school of belief is that it originated in India or China, but these are just biased thoughts from our view, as they seem not to be used currently in these communities.
Then with the passage of time, the expensive brocades were replaced with scarves made of cotton and silk. These days you will see all the five colors of the elements of the earth. Mostly in shades of white or ivory is what you will find commonly used. Khatas come in a wide selection of different lengths and fabric qualities for all the different occasions.
Thanks to Tibetan Prayer Flags for this information.