- by Caroline
- Last Updated: 2018-07-25
Shoton Festival is a traditional religious festival for all the Tibetans that live not only in Tibet Autonomous Region, but also in Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunnan provinces. It starts from late June or early July of the Tibetan calendar, which normally is in August of the solar calendar. In the Tibetan language, “Sho” means yogurt, “Ton” means banquet, so, you can consider it as a feast of eating yogurt. Accompanied by the wonderful Tibetan opera performances and the ceremony of unfolding huge Tangka, it is called “Tibetan Opera Festival” or “Unveiled Buddha Festival” as well. Besides of the main activities, people can watch the breathtaking yak or horse races for optional. The Shoton Festival of 2018 will start from 11th to 17th in August.
Dated back to the middle of 11th. Century, the Drepung Monastery was the first place to hold the Shoton Festival. It was absolute a religious event of Buddhism from the beginning. According to the Buddhist teaching, there are more than 300 commandments, among which the killing is the most serious sin to avoid. The insects increase to large numbers in Summer, thus, the Gelug Sect of Buddhism has strictly regulated lamas to stay only in Monasteries during April to June of the Tibetan calendar, for keeping away from the damage on those tiny creatures. This action is called “Ya Le” or “Peaceful living in Summer” and it would last for nearly two months initially. Lamas could break the ban and go out until the end of June, while the lay people would offer them Yogurt as a reward of their hard practice. Besides, a banquet would be held in the wild ground, where people performed Tibetan opera to celebrate the open moment. With time passing by, this celebration has developed into an annual Buddhist feast and finally become the Shoton Festival with such a big scale nowadays.
Where to hold the Shoton Festival?
The primary city to hold the Shoton Festival is Lhasa, where there are big celebrations around three places---the Drepung Monastery, Norbulingka, and the Potala Palace. Compared with the other two, Norbulingka, which is used to be the summer palace for Dalai Lama is the center venue.
What to expect in Shoton Festival?
1. Prolog ---The ceremony of unfolding the huge Tangka
A huge Tangka embroidered with a picture of Sakyamuni is kept in the Drepung Monastery as a priceless treasure. On the first day of Shoton Festival, this 500 square meters Tangka will be carried out by about 100 lamas and delivered to the west of the monastery, where there is a platform for the exhibition. It begins at 8 o’clock in the morning when the horns are heard all over the valley. People get excited when the Tangka is opened up little by little on the hillside. Lamas start to chant scripture, and laymen offer white (one kind of saintly scarfs represent for best wishes) to Buddha for a blessing.
Thousands of hada flying in front of the Buddha picture makes it a remarkable scene that will impress anyone on the spot. Two hours later, the Tangka will be rolled up and sent back to Drepung Monastery, waiting for being brought to light the next year.
2. Eating Yogurt
After the solemn unveiling ceremony, the rest part of Shoton Festival is full entertainment. Tibetan families will have a picnic in Norbulingka, which is a national park opened for public now. The dressed-up Tibetan people come to the park early in the morning, set up colorful tents, put the mat on the ground, prepare food and beverages in advance. They celebrate the festival by singing, dancing, and eating the symbolic food Yogurt, drinking butter Tea or Qingke Liquor. They also invite friends to share their happiness. The harmonious atmosphere covers every corner of the park.
3. Tibetan Opera
Another important activity for Shoton Festival is to watch the traditional Tibetan Opera. From the second day on, there are Tibetan Opera performances started at 11 a.m. and ended up till the dark. The troupes usually perform at Norbulingka and another park named “Long Wang Tan” (the pond of dragon king) near the Potala Palace. The original Tibetan opera normally last for several days while the performances for Shoton Festival have to be concentrated into a short one due to the limited time. But it will not affect the passion from either the performers or the audiences. During this time, the Tibetan opera troupes from Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu and Yunnan provinces will come to Lhasa for competition. On the other hand, it’s also an opportunity for them to exchange skills therefore get improvements.
Overall speaking, the Shoton Festival is one of the most important feasts for Tibetan people. You can understand Tibetan culture and Buddhism more deeply after participation. So, what are you waiting for? Contact us and join in a tour for the Shoton Festival this year!
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