Shoton Festival is one of the most popular traditional festivals in Tibet. “Shoton” means “yogurt banquet” in the Tibetan language. It is held annually in the month of August, or late in the sixth month or early in the seventh month of the Tibetan calendar. The festival is a great occasion for both Tibetans and tourists.
During the festival, there are celebrations in the streets, squares and monasteries in Lhasa. The main part of the celebration activities are centered on the western part of the city of Lhasa in Tibet on the grounds of the palace of the Dalai Lama that is called Norbulingka that they started to build in 1755. The Norbulingka, together with Potala Palace and Jokhang Monastery was recognized as part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Gelug Sect of Buddhism has a regulation that between April and June according to the Tibetan calendar lamas may only practice Buddhism in monasteries to avoid stepping on and killing tiny living things. When the ban ends, lamas go out of the monasteries and laymen offer them sour milk and perform Tibetan operas. After 1642, the Paradise Palace of the Drepung Monastery became the political, religious and cultural center of Tibet. Tens of thousands of people went there each year to give yoghurt to the lamas and to ask for blessings. The Tibetan Opera troupes and wild yak dancing troupes all came to perform. In this way, the Shoton Festival began.
Another important part of the Shoton Festival is Tibetan Opera. One can’t miss it. Starting from the second day of the Shoton Festival, Tibetan Opera is performed from about 11:00 a.m. until dusk every day at the Norbulingka and at another park near the Potala Palace. Due to the limited time, the performances are only a distillation of actual Tibetan Opera. Real Tibetan Operas may go on for several days.
“Buddha Show” is a main and important activity of the Shoton Festival. In the dawn, a lot of Lamas spread out the giant “Thanka” of Buddha. When the “Thanka” is spread out, the sun would be blazing through the morning mist whether the weather is sunny or overcast, and shines at the gaint “Thanka” of Buddha, which is called the combination of deities and mankind. Then thousands of followers hold their breath and feel the baptism of their hearts. Next, horns blare, all Lamas read the scripture and pray, followers present Khatag to the “Thanka”, and touch the “Thanka” by forehead to show devotion. Then people come to Norbulingka, walk into own relatives’ and friends’ tents, and serve yak-butter tea and highland barley wine each other. People would sing and dance throughout the night. Shoton Festival is also called Buddha-Show Festival or Tibetan Opera Festival.