In Tibetan calendar, each late June to early July will see the celebration of the traditional festival—Shoton Festival. In Tibetan language, “shoton” means “has a yoghurt feast”, so Shoton festival is also named “Yoghurt Festival”. It is also known as “Tibetan Opera Festival” and “Buddha Exhibition Festival”.
Shoton Festival originated in the middle of 11th century as a religious ceremony initially. According to Buddhism doctrine, kill animals is forbidden, thus the monks are forbidden to go outside during the April to June, a period when all animals are wandering around actively. In the end of June, all the monks are allowed to go outside of the temple again, and people will treat them with yoghurt, and hold ceremony to celebrate and perform the Tibet Opera.
This festival took shape at the Drepung Monastery initially, by the end of 17th century and early 18th century, the Qing dynasty’ emperor canonized the Panchen Lama, thus enforce the political system which political and religious are indispensable. In year 1642, Drepung Monastery became the political and religious center, every June 30th, people will throng into it, to give monks yoghurt and receive their blessings for longevity and health. Since then, Shoton festival became a fixed festival, with continuous enriching activities. Zang opera integrates into the Shoton festivals, marking the integration of religious ceremony and entertainment activity, and the celebrating area is confined around the Drepung Monastery.
During this Festival, a grand Tibetan opera and Buddhist ceremony will be held. Generally the Shoton Festival begins with the Buddha exhibition and then follows by Tibetan opera and local people’s festivities as well as wonderful yak racing and equestrian performances, etc. To exploreTibet, this is definitely an occasion you cannot miss. And this year it will be held from August 17 to August 23, solar calendar.
The Most Sacred Moment—Buddhist Pilgrims Worship the Sakyamuni Buddha in Drepung Monastry is the most sacred moment.
This festival kicks off with the Buddha image spreading to people when the first ray of morning sunshine reach the mountain of Zhebang Temple around 8am. (Zhebang Temple, which was built during 1416AD, is the largest Buddhism temple in Tibet, which comprises Cuoqin Palace and Duisonglakang Buddha Palace,etc.) The 500 square meters Sakyamuni Buddha image made of silk will be presented before thousands of Buddhist pilgrims who throng into Lhasa from all over the world.
Accompanied by the stately horn, the overwhelming crowds approach the Buddha image with the most pious heart; they worship his image with prayer gestures and on their knees. This is the most sacred moment of Shoton festival.
After the ritual is over, their family members will pick them up and bring yoghurt, on their way back, they will sing and dance.
After Panchen Lama the eighth moved from Drepung Monastry to Potala Palace, Shoton festival was held there afterwards. Citizens are allowed to enter the Potala Palace to watch the Zang Opera inside.
Zang opera is a very important part of Shoton festival. On the second day of Shoton Festival, in the Longwantan Park opposite of Potola Palace, the Zang opera will start without stop, from 11am to the dawn. Rehearsal usually begins in early June, and all the actors will gather from all over the county to Lhasa.
Shoton festival plays a key role to showcase the unique Tibet culture, customs and to enhance to ethic group’s cohesion and maintain the diversity of culture.
Evolving with time, Shoton festival has become a comprehensive gathering include Sakyamuni Buddha exhibition, entertainment, sports competition, business, products exhibition and tourism.