Shoton Festival

The Shoton Festival begins July 1 on the Tibetan calendar, and lasts a week.

It is also known as the Yogurt (Banquet) Festival since locals customarily eat Tibetan yogurt during the gala. "Sho" means the yogurt and "ton" means banquet in the Tibetan language. Prior to the 17th century, Shoton was an exclusively religious observance. Legend has it that Tsong Khapa, the founder of the Yellow Sect, made it a rule that all the lamas must practice meditation and self-improvement indoors from the fourth month to the sixth month of Tibetan year, to avoid carelessly killing newly hatched insects or other creatures.

Their seclusion was only broken by the end of sixth month, which meant all the lamas were not allowed to leave their monasteries until July 1. As they walked down the mountainsides, local residents would offer alms of yogurt, and the "Yogurt Festival" stuck. In addition to the yogurt banquet, monks also amused themselves with entertainment activities. This is the origin of the Shoton.

From around the mid-17th century, the government of the Qjng Dynasty (1644-1911) formally conferred nobility titles on the 5th Dalai Lama and the 4th Panchen, and the Tibetan religious and political system was integrated and strengthened. The activities of the Shoton were more colorful then, andTibetan operaperformances were added to the festival celebrations held around the monasteries. It became a theatrical festival for Tibetan opera, and was also called the Tibetan Opera Festival. Tibetan opera and theatrical troupes would come to the Norbu Lingka to perform.

Accordingly, the Shoton Festival was established. Later, religious activities and entertainment were combined during the festival. From the beginning of the 18th century, the festival expanded from thePotala Palaceto the Norbu Lingka, and celebrations became formalized. Handed down through today, they include polishing of the Buddha's portrait, folk amusement activities at local lingkas (parks) and Tibetan opera. Popular trade fairs are also organized.

During the festival, giantthangkasof the Buddha are unveiled under the sun at theDrepung Monasteryand traditional Tibetan operas are performed at the Norbu Lingka. After devoutly viewing the thangkas, people go to the Norbu Lingka and take part inpicnics.

This festival is not only popular inLhasa, but also in Gyangtse City. The Shoton Festival in Gyangtse City was established later than that in Lhasa, and local people call it Semuqinbo.