Tibetan Shoton Festival
- by Caroline
- Last Updated: 2022-12-30
Shoton Festival, also called Sho Dun 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 on June 30th of the Tibetan calendar, which usually 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 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 2023 will start on the 16th of August.
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, 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 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?
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 is used to be the summer palace for Dalai Lama, 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 for being 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 Lama but now it opened to the public. The dressed-up Tibetan people come to the park early in the morning, set up colorful tents, put the mat on the ground, and prepare food and beverages in advance. They celebrate the festival by singing, dancing, and eating the symbolic food 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.
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!
What are the Most Significant Tibetan Festivals?
Significant Tibetan festivals include Losar Festival, Saga Dawa Festival, Shoton Festival, etc. Joining a feast is a great way to experience Tibetan culture.
Saga Dawa Festival
Saga Dawa festival is celebrated in the 4th month of the Tibetan Calendar. It's significant for remembering the birthday, enlightenment, and death of Sakyamuni.
Losar - Tibetan New Year
Tibetan people call Tibetan New Year “Losar”. It's the most important Tibetan festival in the Tibetan calendar. In 2023, Losar falls on Feb. 21.
Buddha's Descent Day is called Lhabab Duchen in Tibetan. Tibetan Buddhism believes that September 22nd of the Tibetan calendar is the day when the founder of Buddhism, Sakyamuni, returned to the world.
Nagqu Horse Racing Festival
Nagqu Horse Racing Festival is the greatest event in northern Tibet to enjoy an attire feast, delicious Tibetan food, as well as singing and dancing.
Damgxung Horse Racing Festival
Introduction about the Horse Racing Festival in Damgxung, including venue, activities, and opening time to help travelers understand Tibetan culture.
Celebrate Saga Dawa Festival at Mt. Kailash
Saga Dawa is usually celebrated at Mt.Kailash. The famous Tarboche Flagpole, a huge pole that lies on the Kailash Kora route, would be replaced with new prayer flags and raised up again during this festival.
Galdan Namchot is to commemorate Je Tsongkhapa. On this day, temples in Tibet will hold grand offering rituals, especially offering lamps.
Butter Lamp Festival
Butter Lamp Festival falls on the 15th of the first month of the Tibetan Calendar. It’s a tradition that commemorates all of Buddha’s miracles.
Nyingchi Peach Bloosom Festival
With the lowest elevation in Tibet, Nyingchi has the same stunning scenery as Switzerland. Especially during March and April, the peach flowers are blossoming in the mountain. Do you want a journey to the most romantic place in Tibet?
Recommended Tour Packages
Email response within 0.5~24 hours.