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Shoton Yoghurt Festival: A Celebration of Tibetan Opera, and Tradition

In Tibetan, “Sho” means “yoghurt” and “Ton” means “banquet”. Therefore, the Shoton Festival is also known as the “Shoton Yogurt Festival”. Over time, the activities of the Shoton Festival evolved to include Tibetan opera as a major component, leading people to call it the Tibet Opera Festival as well.

History of Shoton Yoghurt Festival

The Shoton Festival has its origins in the 11th century, originally as a religious observance. It takes place in the month of June on the Tibetan calendar, during which monks would engage in cultivation and meditation within their monasteries until the 1st day of the Seventh month. The festival came into existence when local residents started offering alms of yoghurt to the monks.

In the 17th century, the Great 5th Dalai Lama introduced Tibetan opera to the celebration, transforming it into a nationwide event. As the largest and most enigmatic festival in Tibet, the Shoton Festival showcases the deep-rooted traditions, rich culture, and devout faith of the Tibetan people. Travellers from around the world, seeking to explore more than just the region’s picturesque lakes and mountains, are drawn to Tibet during this time of year.

Main Events during Shoton Yoghurt Festival

The festival consists primarily of three parts: the Great Buddha Display, Tibetan Opera Show, and Horsemanship & Yak Race Show. Together, these components represent the finest examples of Tibetan religion, culture, and tradition. The first week of the Seventh month on the Tibetan calendar is set aside for the Shoton Festival. During this time, monks engage in cultivation and meditation within their monasteries until the 1st day of the Seventh month.

The festival began to incorporate Tibetan opera in the mid-17th century. In the early 19th century, Norbu Lingka was renovated and served as the summer palace of the 9th Dalai Lama. As a result, the festival was moved to Norbu Lingka and became more formalized.

Shoton Festival in Old Tibet

Thus, the fixed Shoton Festival was established. In ancient Tibet, the Shoton Festival activities followed this pattern: on the 29th of the sixth month, troupes from all over Tibet would go to the Potala Palace and register with the local government. The ceremony would include short performances, followed by a visit to pay respects to the Dalai Lama at Norbu Lingka, and an evening return to Drepung Monastery.

On the 30th, Tibetan opera would be performed all day at Drepung Monastery. All officials would gather at Norbu Lingka to enjoy the performances alongside the Dalai Lama. At noon, a banquet would be held to treat the officials, featuring yoghurt as one of the dishes. Residents of Lhasa and peasants from the surrounding areas would dress up, bring food and drinks, and go to Norbu Lingka to watch the performances.

About the author

The Tibetan Travel website's creator, hailing from Lhasa, is a cultural enthusiast. They promote responsible tourism, connecting the world to Tibet's beauty and heritage. Awards recognize their contribution.

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