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Tibetan Shoton Festival

Grand Shoton Festival

Shoton Festival, also called Sho Dun Festival, is a traditional religious festival for all the Tibetans who live not only in Tibet Autonomous Region, but also in Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunnan provinces. It starts on June 30th of the Tibetan calendar, which usually is in August of the solar calendar. This festival lasts 5 days. 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 the “Tibetan Opera Festival” or “Unveiled Buddha Festival” as well. Besides the main activities, people can watch breathtaking yak or horse races for optional. The Shoton Festival of 2024 will start on the 4th of August.

History

It is dated back to the middle of the 11th Century, the Drepung Monastery was the first place to hold the Shoton Festival. It was absolutely a religious event of Buddhism from the beginning. According to Buddhist teaching, there are more than 300 commandments, among which killing is the most severe 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 from April to June of the Tibetan calendar, to keep away from the damage to 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 laypeople would offer them Yogurt as a reward for their hard practice. Besides, a banquet would be held in the wild ground, where people performed Tibetan opera to celebrate the opening. With time passing by, this celebration has developed into an annual Buddhist feast and finally become the Shoton Festival on such a big scale nowadays.

Where to Hold the Shoton Festival?

Norbulingka

Lhasa is the first city to hold the Shoton Festival. There are big celebrations around three places---the Drepung Monastery, Norbulingka, and the Potala Palace. Compared with the other two, Norbulingka, which used to be the summer palace for successive Dalai Lamas, is the central venue.

What to Expect During the 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 the 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 a.m. 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 pilgrims offer white Khata (one kind of saintly scarfs representing best wishes) to Buddha for a blessing.

Thousands of khata flying in front of the Buddha picture make 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 to be brought to light the next year.

2. Eating Yogurt

After the solemn unveiling ceremony, the rest part of the Shoton Festival is full of entertainment. Tibetan families will have a picnic in Norbulingka, which was a royal park for Dalai Lamas but is now open to the public. The dressed-up Tibetan people come to the park early in the morning, set up colorful tents, put the mats on the ground, and prepare food and beverages in advance. They celebrate the festival by singing, dancing, and eating the symbolic food of Yogurt, and drinking butter Tea, or Qingke Liquor. They also invite friends to share their happiness. The harmonious atmosphere covers every corner of the park.

Tibetan opera

Another vital activity for the Shoton Festival is watching the traditional Tibetan Opera. From the second day on, there are Tibetan Opera performances that started at 11 a.m. and ended up till dark. The troupes usually perform at Norbulingka and another park named “Long Wang Tan” (the pond of the dragon king) near the Potala Palace. The original Tibetan opera typically 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 of 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 popular 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 a tour during the Shoton Festival this year!

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