At the end of June and the beginning of July of each year according to Tibetan calendar will be the Tibetan traditional festival-Shoton Festival. In Tibetan language, “Sho” means yogurt while “Ton” refers to eat and banquet. Therefore, Shoton Festival means the day to eat yogurt according to Tibetan language. That’s why Shoton Festival is also called Yogurt Festival sometimes.
Shoton Festival Celebration
During the festival, there would hold grand and impassioned Tibetan Opera as well as the Great Buddha Display Ceremony in grand scale. Hence, Shoton Festival is known as Tibetan Opera Festival or Buddha Festival as well. Traditionally, Shoton Festival begins with the Buddha exhibition ceremony accompanied by Tibetan Opera and massive garden viewing, as well as wonderful yak race and horse show, etc. at the same time.
Before 17th century, Shoton Festival in Tibet was completely a sort of religious activity. On the basis of Buddhist regulations and disciplines at that time, dozens of days in summer were banned for monks to go out until the deregulation. In the opening days, monks all went out of the temples and got down the mountains. Secular people would prepare yogurt for charity then, which is exactly the source of “Shoton”.
By the middle of seventeenth century, more Tibetan Opera performances were added into the festivities and gradually formed the “Shoton Festival” of today. On the other hand, religious and cultural activities are still limited in and out of the temple while it is centered in Drepung Monastery of Lhasa City. At the beginning of 18th century, Norbulingka Palace was constructed as the summer palace of Dalai Lama. Hence, Shoton festivities began to move to Norbulingka. Citizens as well as people around the park are allowed to enter Norbulingka to view Tibetan Operas, which gradually formed a set of fixed festival ceremony.
Tibetan Opera Show at Norbulingka Summer Palace
In the past, the way Tibetans celebrated Shoton Festival always in the way like this: June 29th based on Tibetan calendar, Tibetan Opera Troupes from different places registered in local government at Potala Palace in the morning and held a simple ceremony. Then they went to Norbulingka to greet Dalai Lama and turned back to Drepung Monastery in the evening. On each June 30th, they would perform the operas a whole day long. On July 1st, opera troupes of various places would have a joint performance at Norbulingka Park. From the second day to the fifth day of July, troupes of Gyantse, Ngamring, Namling and Lhasa would each perform for one day at a square in turns.
During Shoton Festival, local government would have a holiday and all officials would concentrate in the Norbulingka, accompanying Dalai Lama to view Tibetan Opera. The government would host a banquet at noon to treat all officials, and yogurt was a must of this banquet. The Lhasa citizens together with farmers of suburbs also dressed up, taking with food and drinks to view the performances in Norbulingka.