• Shoton Festival - A Cultural Gala on the Roof of the World!Grand Himalaya's trip to Tibet, Mount Everest, and Kathmandu wasthe trip
    Shoton Festival - A Cultural Gala on the Roof of the World! Shoton Festival in Lhasa with Mt. Everest 9 DAYS 2014-06-26

    Shoton Festival originates from the 11th century. It had been exclusively a religious observance until the 17th century when the Great 5th Dalai Lama introduced the Tibetan opera into the celebration, making it a nationwide gala. Being the largest and most mysterious festival on the roof of the world, Shoton Festival serves as a showcase to rooted tradition, appealing culture and great piety of the Tibetan people. Global travelers, who urge to discover more than just turquoise lakes and snow capped mountains on this forbidden land, are drawn to Tibet at this time of year.

    The festival mainly consists of 3 parts - Great Buddha Display, Tibetan Opera Show and Horsemanship & Yak Race Show. In combination they represent the best of Tibetan religion, culture and tradition.

    Festival History

    Shoton is a transliteration of two words in the Tibetan language which means "the Yoghurt (Sho) Banquet (Ton)", so this festival is featuring in eating yogurt, that's why the Shoton Festival is also called the Yoghurt Festival.

    Master Atisha The history of Shoton Festival can be traced back to the 11th century when the Great Bangladeshi Buddhist Master Atisha was invited to Tibet to revive Buddhism that had been forbidden about two centuries on this highland, during which people suffered a lot from endless conflicts and wars. After decades of Atisha and his disciples' hard work, the Buddhism spirits of charity, forgiveness, love and peace became prevailed again in the society and for this, Atisha won much respect from people too; The Master Atisha likes eating Yoghurt, and the folks would present him with alms of yogurt when summer comes; reciprocally, the Master would pray for them. It is said that the livestock of the folks presenting yogurt to the Master would be free from disease, getting neither lost nor eaten by wild animals, with these known by more and more people, yogurt became a kind of holy food from that time.

    Offerings to LamasAt that time, the doctrines of the Tibetan Buddhism had developed into more than 300 pieces, and the most important one is to avoid killing lives. While the vegetations became the most sufficient and the little creature all came out for food in summer, Atisha and his disciples all chose to stay inside the monastery to do meditation in case stamping any little creature into death outside. This summer meditation retreat lasts from April to the 30th, June according to the Tibetan calendar, and it is called "Yale" in the Tibetan language. However, staying only inside the monastery for 3 months long brought lots of problems too for lamas, among which, food insufficiency was the biggest one. In order to acknowledge the kindness that was practiced, and the hardness that was endured by the lamas during their summer meditation retreat in the monastery, hundreds of thousands of people would flood to the monastery and offer their best home-made yogurt to the lamas upon their return from retreat on the 30th, June, and that is how the Shoton Festival came into being.

    Great 5th Dalai LamaIn 1642, Gelupa sect of the Tibetan Buddhism took over the power in Tibet, and the Great Fifth Dalai Lama became the leader both in politics and religion. Thus, his dwelling place of Ganden Pochan at Drepung Monastery became the center of Tibetan politics, religion and culture. The great Fifth Dalai Lama was a fan of Tibetan opera, and it was under his decision that the Tibetan opera was introduced to the Shoton Festival. From that time, Tibetan opera has become a must-see highlight during the festival, yet at that time, the opera was only performed inside the Drepung Monastery and only open for lamas inside and some invited nobilities; but the Shoton Festival did take the lead in combing religion and entertainment on this forbidden land. The opera was performed in Drepung Monastery until 1653 when the Great 5th Dalai Lama moved his residence from Drepung Monastery to Potala Palace. However, when the 7th Dalai Lama was in power from 1720, he built Norbulingka Park as his summer palace in the western part of Lhasa city, and then, the stage for the Tibetan opera shifted to Norbulingka Park. And it is from that time too the Tibetan opera became open for the folks for the first time till now it becomes a must-see highlight for the folks during the festival.

    Looking back again the Shoton Festival's 1000 years history at Drepung Monastery, Potala Palace and Norbulingka Park, you will easily find this time-honored festival has rooted deeply into generations of Tibetan people's life. The festival is surely the best time for any explorer to come to this mysterious land to discover and understand this old nation's religion, culture and tradition.

    Festival Activities

    From merely a religious observance within the monastery into a public festival for the whole nation, the Shoton Festival itself includes many interesting and marvelous activities; they are mainly Great Buddha Display, Tibetan Opera Show and Horsemanship & Yak Race Show.

    1. Great Buddha Display

    Great Buddha DisplayThe 500-square-meter (598-square-yard) large Great Buddha Display on the hillside back to the Drepung Monastery is the prelude to the festival, in order to get a better position to view the unveiling of the Great Buddha, some Tibetan people wake up as early as 2 or 3 A.M. to rush to the monastery. You will find people jostling each other in the crowd even you have been there at 5 A.M., and the whole mountain will be fully dotted with people before the daybreak. About 7 A.M., along with the sutra horns blaring though the valley, the 20 meters long folded Buddha in the monastery will be carried by scores of the strongest lamas all the way to the big platform built along the hillside for unveil and display. At 8:00 A.M., as the sutra horn and scripture reciting goes on, a huge figure of Sakyamuni embroidered in color is gradually unfolded; at the same time, the first light, blazing through the morning mist, shines on the Great Buddha, which is called the combination of deities and mankind. Then followers will start worship and present Khada to the Great Buddha, and touch the Great Buddha by the forehead to show devotion, praying for safety, happiness and fortune.

    This ceremony is known as the Great Buddha Display which marks the beginning of the annual Tibetan Shoton Festival.

    2. Tibetan Opera Show

    From 10 A.M. on the same day, the best Tibetan Opera troupes from Lhasa, Shigatse and Shannan will gather around at the Norbulingka Park to perform operas, the Norbulingka Park used to be the Summer Palace from the 7th Dalai Lama. The opera show lasts 7 days, but only 8 of the most classical and popular operas will be performed alternately, such as Princess Wenchen, Prince Norsang, Trowa Sonam, Maiden Langsa and etc.

    Over the centuries, Tibetan opera stagecraft has developed three main parts: Appearance Ceremony (Wenba Dun), Episode Show (Xiong) and Ending Ceremony (Tashi).

    Wenba DunThe appearance ceremony is known as the "Wenba Dun" in the Tibetan language, "Wenba" means characters in mask, "Dun" means opening ceremony; in this section, characters in mask who are in the role of hunters with bow in hand will dance onto stage firstly, which means cleaning and purifying the stage from monsters; and then "Jialu" (Prince) in the costume of a Prince will step on the stage, symbolizing power from the royal, to bless the stage and audience; next, "Lhamo" (fairies) will dance onto stage gracefully, which means fairies come down to earth to enjoy this happy moment with human beings, all these form a grand and characteristic prelude to the main opera episode show.

    The episode show is known as "Xiong" in the Tibetan language; a narrator will come out to introduce performers and explain plot section by section while the opera is performed, the episode show will go with plot but of few dances and songs.Opera Episode

    The ending ceremony is known as "Tashi" in the Tibetan language which means "propitious" and "good luck"; in this section, as the opera concludes, all the performers will dance and sing again. While receiving storms of applause from the audience, the performers will also at the same time extend their best wishes to the audience and hope all people have a propitious and lucky year.Opera Ending

    3. Horsemanship & Yak Race Show

    Another must-see highlight is the Horsemanship & Yak Race Show which is held at the 9 A.M. at Lhasa Race Course on the second day. Unlike equestrian competition in the Olympic Games, the riders at the horsemanship show ride horses at a very difficult and breathtaking way. For example, you will see 6 riders standing on the horseback in a shape of a pyramid while horse running very fast. After the thrilling horsemanship show, you will see the very interesting Yak Race Show. When the game starts, some yaks just do not move no matter how riders beat, while some just run about aimlessly out of riders' control; these bulky fellows are always able to make audience cannot help laughing. Besides those two shows, you will also see other competitions, such as tug of war, stone-lifting and etc. In one word, those shows and competitions can only be found in Tibet, and they exclusively reflect this old nation's valiancy, wisdom and naturalness.Yak Race Show

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