In Tibetan, “sho” means “Yoghurt” and “ton” means “banquet”. So Shoton Festival is also called the ‘Shoton Yogurt Festival’. Subsequently, as the activities of the Shoton Festival gradually changed into an activity with Tibetan opera as a major part, so people also called it the Tibet Opera Festival.
Shoton Festival originates from the 11th century. Shoton had been an exclusively religious observance. The month of June on the Tibetan calendar was reserved for the Shoton Festival. It is cultivation and meditation for all the monks who were not allowed to go out of monasteries until the 1st day of Seventh month. When local residents would offer alms of yogurt, that’s how The Shoton Festival came into being.
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.
The first week of Seven months on the Tibetan calendar was reserved for the Shoton Festival. It is cultivation and meditation for all the monks who were not allowed to go out of monasteries until the 1st day of Seventh month. When local residents would offer alms of yogurt, that’s how The Shoton Festival came into being. From around the mid-17th century, Tibetan local operas were added to festival celebrations.
At the beginning of the 19th century, Norbu Lingka was renovated and acted as the summer palace of the 9th Dalai Lama. Then the main site of the festival was moved to Norbu Lingka and celebrations became formalized. Accordingly, the fixed Shoton Festival was established. In the old Tibet, the activities of the Shoton Festival went like this: on the 29th of the sixth month, troupes all through Tibet would go to the Potala Palace and registered in the local government. Curt performances were given at the ceremony and then they would give respect Dalai Lama at Norbu Lingka, and returned to Dreprung Monastery in the evening. On the 30th, Tibetan opera would be performed all day at Drepung Monastery.
All the officials would assemble at Norbu Lingka and enjoyed the performances with Dalai Lama. At noon, a banquet was given to treat all the officials, and Yoghurt was served. The residents in Lhasa and peasants from suburb would dress up, take along food and drinks and go to Norbu Lingka for the performances