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Shoton Festival

Shoton Festival

"Shoton" in Tibetan means sour milk banquet. The word "sho" means the sour milk while the latter word "ton" means eating or banquet. The Shoton Festival starts on the 30th day of the 6th month according to Tibetan calendar (usu. later half of August) and lasts five days.  As Tibetan operas are performed and Buddha paintings are exhibited at this time, it is also called "Tibetan Opera Festival" or "Buddha Exhibition Festival." The traditional way of starting the Shoton Festival to show Buddha paintings. The main portion includes Tibetan operas and gala parties, as well as wonderful yak racing and horsemanship display.

Before the 17th century, the festival is an original religious activity. The Gelug Sect of Buddhism has a regulation that between April and June according to the Tibetan calendar lamas may only practice Buddhism in monasteries to avoid stepping on and killing tiny living things. When the ban ends, monks go out of the monasteries and laymen offer them sour milk and perform Tibetan operas. In this way, the Shoton Festival began.

 After 1642, the Gandain Phodrang (Paradise Palace) of the Drepung Monastery became the political, religious and cultural center of Tibet. Tens of thousands of people went there on June 30th each year to give yoghurt to the lamas and ask for blessings. During its later development, the activities in Shoton Festival are enriched. Almost twelve troupes of Tibetan Opera take part into the grand festival every year, therefore, the ancient folk festival with a history of more than 300 years is regarded as a festival for Tibetan Opera.

The festival is held only in the temples when Tibetan Opera initially involved in, mainly held in Drepung Monastery, thus it was called Drepung  Shoton Festival.After the 5th Dalai Lama (1617-1682) moved the Drepung Monastery into The Potala Palace, the festival was first held in the Drepung Monastery and then in the The Potala Palace the next day. When the Norbulingka Summer Palace was completed in the early 18th century, the festival was held in Norbulingka permitted citizens to enter the palace to enjoy the Tibetan Opera. After, the activities in Shoton Festival are formed into a routine folk festival.

In the past 200 years, the Shoton Festival coexisted in Drepung, Potala Palace and Norbulingka Summer Palace with the Norbulingka Summer Palace as the center.

As an important Tibetan folk festival, Shoton Festival shows the continuity of Tibetan culture, thus is significant for maintaining the unique culture, enhancing national unity and the diversity of world culture to protect ancient festival.