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My Shoton Festival experience in Lhasa

07-12-2009 12:07 BJT

BEIJING, July 10 -- As one of the most important festivals in Tibet, Shoton Festival attracts thousands of devout Buddhists from across the world. The Shoton Festival begins on the 30th day of the 6th Tibetan month (or late August) and lasts five days. With the display of the giant Buddha Tangkha, Tibetan operas, picnics, yak and horse races, the festival reflects the endless charm of Tibet.

On August 12, 2007, I experienced my first Shoton Festival in Lhasa. I went to Drepung Monastery to see the giant Buddha there and then I went to Norbulingka, which impressed me very much. Of course, I became intensely interested in the festival and that's why I'm sharing my understanding of it with you.

  People perform at the opening ceremony of the Shoton (Yogurt) Festival celebration in on the Potala Palace Square in Lhasa, capital of Tibet Autonomous Regional, Aug. 30, 2008. (Xinhua Photo)

"Shoton" is a Tibetan word meaning yoghurt banquet, or festival. In Tibetan, "sho" means yoghurt while "ton" means banquet. So it is also named the yoghurt festival. Moreover, since many Tibetan operas are performed during the festival, and the first day of the festival includes the display of the giant Tangkha of Buddha, Shoton Festival is also called the Tibetan Operas Festival or the Buddha Display Festival. Traditionally, the festival also includes horse shows and yak races.

On the first day of the festival, thousands of people assemble at Drebung Monastery and a grand ritual is held to display a huge painting of Buddha. At around 7am, a long line of about 100 monks who carried a huge roll, the giant Tangkha, started to walk toward a vast slope, a big rock, where the Tangkha would be put on display.

At about 7:30 or 8 am, the monks started to spread the giant Tangkha step by step. People were so excited that some threw khadas to the Buddha. When the complete picture was revealed, the only thing you could hear was cheering, screams of delight and whistling and the people continued throwing khadas towards the Tangkha of the Buddha.

The second activity of the festival is Tibetan opera. This is a combination of dances, chants and songs with the repertoire drawn from Buddhist stories and Tibetan history. It is also called Lhamo, literally meaning goddess.

  Actors perform Tibetan operas to mark the opening of the Shoton Festival at the Potala Palace Square, Lhasa, capital of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region on Aug. 12, 2007. (Xinhua Photo)

Usually the performances last the whole day or for a few days. Tibetans are so fond of the shows that they sing along with the performers. However, for travelers and tourists who can't understand a word of Tibetan, it is nearly impossible to survive even one hour of the performance.

My fondest memory of the performance was not of the costumes, not of the acting, not of the music, not of the songs, but of sipping tea made by a dear old lady who sat and chatted with me during the performance! So now I am an authority on Tibetan tea, but not on Tibetan opera!

The third aspect of the festival is the most popular: it is the picnic in Lingka. You can imagine under large trees, on green grass, by the riverside, friends and families gathered together, sharing delicious food and drinking, singing and dancing. There are great feasts and visits between family groups, and bonfires are a very common sight at night. The picnic and social side of the festival is a time of strong bonds between families and friends.

With its unique charm, Shoton Festival now attracts people from all over the world and all participants share in the charm, the blessings and the happiness it brings. It is one of the great festivals for Tibetans and is a true and concrete representation of their dearly loved Tibetan culture.

This article is a blog or letter by Liang Junyan from China Tibetology Research Center.


Editor:卢佳颖 |Source: China Daily

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