How it is Celebrated
There are several activities of the Shoton Festival and are essentially its representations to locals and outsiders alike. The details for each are as follows.
1. Thangka Exhibition
The festival of “Sho Dun” begins with the Buddha exhibition at the well-known Drepung Monastery. This is situated at the base of the Gebeiwoze Mountain. The beginning of the festival in the tranquil valley area is full of excitement and relaxation for the locals. Indeed, the festival starts when you hear a sound of a sutra bugle throughout the area. With this signal, around 100 lamas start moving with the display of a huge Qamba or Maitreya Buddha. This procession begins from the Coqen Hall inside the monastery and proceeds towards the west. Here, the group movement occurs until it reaches the setup platform for the painting exhibition.
During this period, the mulberry smoke starts coming out from different directions, scripture reading continues, and the bugle sounds resonate. Slowly, the lamas display the large Thangka, and people move closer for white Hada offerings. Moreover, other organizers release multiple Hada before the picture. Usually, the officials roll up the painting after 2 hours of display. After this is over, the Tibetan public and visitors start traveling towards the GandainPhodrang courtyard.
2. Yogurt Feast
The prelude of the festival, i.e., the painting unveiling ceremony, is usually very calm and quiet. However, after it ends, people can begin the entertainment portion of the festival. Here, the families and individuals visiting this festival can enjoy a picnic at the Norbulingka.
The participants and event directors dress up in traditional Tibetan garbs and reach the area early. They begin setting up the tents, prepare the food and beverages, and lay the mats on the ground. Later, people celebrate at the location, drinking Qingke Liquor, butter tea, and consuming yogurt.
3. Tibetan Opera Performance
This activity is the highlight of the Shoton festival for many people. It begins after the Thangka exhibition, and the fun lasts for multiple days. During this period, the performers, both professional and amateur, perform Tibetan shows for the gathered public in Norbulingka Park. You can learn different traditional dance techniques that the Tibetan artists perform at the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts. Also, a lot of the famous Tibetan Opera groups perform during this festival. Such performances mainly occur on the First Day, during the afternoon period.
The park’s entire area is full of groups of families and friends partying together, and the decorations include printed canvas and a rug. Bonfires during the night are also common. Indeed, you would notice an atmosphere of enjoyment and pleasure throughout the area.
Main Calendar Events
Shoton Festival begins from the 29th Day in the sixth month of the Lunar Tibetan calendar. In 2020, the first day fell on 19th August (as per the Solar Calendar). Usually, the first day is reserved for the large-scale Thangka display at the Sera and Drepung Monastery. On the same date, the Opera performance or Ache Lhamo occurs in Norbulingka Park. Since then, the festival lasts for seven days.