Shoton Festival

Shoton or Sho Dun Festival is well-known in Tibet’s culture and is one of the most significant events as well. Usually, this seven-day long event occurs in the summer months, mainly between June-July as per the Tibetan calendar.
The festival mostly covers the area of the Tibet Autonomous Region, including particular provinces. Such regions are the Yunnan, Qinghai, Sichuan, and Gansu provinces. People follow the old-time traditions during this period, and thousands of visitors travel to the festival when it occurs. Therefore, if you visit Tibet to taste the local culture and traditions, your opportunity is here. Many residents from different parts of the land visit during this time, and you can interact with them freely.

To translate, the term “Sho” denotes yogurt and the name “Ton” denotes banquet in the Tibetan language. Therefore, it essentially stands for yogurt banquet. As for the celebration, the Tibetan artists organize classical Tibetan dances and folk music performances. Many different performing arts groups can participate in these festivities, from professionals to TIPA students, and put on a beautiful show. Usually, the competition-centric Ache Lhamo performances begin in the NorbuLingka, Lhasa.

Besides them, the monasteries showcase big Buddha paintings or Thangkas. Originally, this festival was about the Buddhist monks who returned from week-long retreats and received yogurt from the commoners. So, this is a part of the festival paying homage to the past. Generally, this occurs in the Drepung Monastery, and all Tibetans visit the area in droves to view the vast Buddha painting. For both the local Tibetan people and foreign travelers, this is a monumental time.

In 2021, people expect this festival to commence from 8th August (Solar Calendar).

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.

SHOTON FESTIVAL IN 2021

In light of recent developments due to the Coronavirus and local government guidelines. All TIPA events are on hold indefinitely for the effective control of Covid.

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FAQ

1. What was the time period of the monk retreat?

The monks were expected to stay in isolation from the month of April to June as per the Tibetan calendar. This period lasted during the summer months when several types of tiny insects come out more frequently compared to other months. This action was known as “Peaceful living in Summer” or “Ya Le” among the locals.

2. Who takes part in the performance competitions?

3. What are the types of lessons one can learn at the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts?

4. Who takes part in the performance competitions?