Shoton Festival (sometimes spelled Sho Dun) is one of the largest and most famous festivals in Tibet. It is celebrated in summer. If you are traveling during that time in Tibet, it is a great opportunity to see traditional Tibetan Culture. Thousands of people come to celebrate it. There is so much interaction with locals during festival activities.
Shoton in Tibetan means Yogurt banquet. During the festival, Tibetan artists perform traditional operas, and important monasteries display large Thangkas – Buddha paintings. The main events gave the other two names to the festival – “Tibetan Opera Festival” or “Thangka Exhibition Festival”.
MAIN ACTIVITIES OF SHOTON FESTIVAL
Shoton festival starts on the 29th day of the 6th Tibetan month. Tibetans use Lunar calendar. The festival date usually falls on August.
The festival is very popular among Tibetans. On that day, thousands of Tibetan people gather at Drepung monastery. Most of Tibetans wear traditional dress and colorful jewelry and decorations. Early in the morning, Drepung Monastery monks display huge Thangka – Buddha Painting. Tibetans believe that this Thangka can give blessing.
People are walking towards the Thangka and then underneath it. The unveiling of the Thangka is one of the most exciting moments. It is so large and heavy, that many monks have to stay on top of the wall to coordinate enrolling, while others are helping them at the foot of the wall. Monks are blowing large trumpet horns.
After visiting Drepung, pilgrims rush to Sera monastery to view another giant Thangka display. Monks of Sera monastery start unveiling the Thangka later in the day, so that pilgrims can visit both places. If you stay longer in Sera monastery complex you can see how Thangka is rolled back up and monks carry it away.
Both monasteries have several giant Thangkas, and they display only one of them once a year. That’s why Shoton Festival is very special for Tibetans. Everyone wants to see these Thangkas and receive the blessings.
Once Tibetans received blessings from both Thangkas, they head to Norbulingka park. Finally, they can rest in the shade of trees. In Norbulingka, Tibetan artists perform traditional opera dance. Some visitors watch the opera., others settle down on the ground to have lunch with their family and friends. Everyone visits all Palaces in the park to pray and leave donations.
SHOTON FESTIVAL IN 2020
The celebration of Shoton festival starts on 29th day of the 6th Tibetan month according to the Lunar Calendar. In 2020, the first day of the festival falls on August 19. On the first day you can see the large Thangka display in Drepung and Sera monastery, as well as Opera dance in Norbulingka park. After that, Tibetan continue to celebrate for a week.
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PLACES TO VISIT DURING SHOTON
The Shoton Festival celebration begins in Drepung Monastery. We can already see the large Thangka from a distance. Unlike on the regular days, we will have to approach monastery from the bottom of the hill. We will walk around the monastery complex directly to the wall with displayed Thangka. Once we walk by the Buddha Painting, we will head to the center of monastery complex. If the Assembly hall is open, you can visit it, along with nearby chapels.
On the way down from Drepung monastery we can buy yogurt from many of the local villagers. Many Tibetans also visit Nechung Oracle Temple at the foot of the mountain.
Monks unveil giant Thangka in Sera monastery late in the day. Unlike on the regular days, we don’t enter monastery complex from the main gate. Instead, we walk around the monastery to approach the wall with the Thangka. From a distance you can see the Buddha image.
After viewing the Thangka we can often buy traditional Tibetan medicine, protection amulets and other things from Sera monastery monks.
If you wish to stay longer, you can witness how monks roll the Thangka back up to carry it away. The process requires hard work and coordination of many monks.
Norbulingka becomes a center of celebration during the Shoton Festival time.
Tibetans gather there with families. Some set up tents, others cover the ground with blankets to have a picnic.
The main event is happening on a stage where artists perform Tibetan opera dance. Every dance tells a story. Artists wear mask and colorful costumes. Some stories are so long that it might take artists several years to learn the dance and practice it.
SHOTON FESTIVAL HISTORY
The history of celebrating Shoton festival goes back to 14th century, the time when master Tsongkapa lived. He initiated a tradition for monks to concentrate on meditation in monasteries from Saga Dawa (4th months of Tibetan lunar calendar) to Shoton Festival (29th day of 6th lunar month).
During that time, the temperature in Tibet is the highest. In the middle of summer, there are many small insects that you often cannot even see, but it is easy to step on them. That’s why monks tried not to walk outside. To avoid killing and earn merit, monks and religious people were going on retreats in caves or staying within monasteries.
The temperature decreases around the the 29th day of 6th Lunar month. Tibetans call this day Nam-Ghang. Because Nam-Ghang is a religious day, Tibetans eat only vegetarian food. That’s why people are offering yogurt to monks returning from retreats. Yogurt abundant in summer months, helps them to regain the energy.
As a gratitude to Tibetan people, monks decided to give something back. That’s when the tradition of Shoton Festival started. Monks display very special huge Thangka paintings to give blessings to all people.
The Shoton or Yogurt festival is one of the most important festivals in Tibet. Festival tour is created to allow you to see the most interesting events during the Shoton. Tibetans celebrate Shoton for a week, the first two days, however, are the most important. On the first day of celebration Tibetans wake up early to visit two main monasteries in Lhasa – Drepung in the morning and Sera in the afternoon.