The Shoton Festival is one of the most revered and anticipated events in Tibet that attracts the attention of thousands of tourists that plan their trip to attend this festival every year. The festival is one of the most eminent features of the Tibetan culture and is rooted deep in the traditions and history. The name of the festival stems from the Tibetan word ‘shoton’ which means yogurt – which is why it is also called the Yogurt Festival.
The history of the Shoton Festival dates all the way back to the 16th century and even before that when it was practiced as an annual religious custom. Tsongkhapa master, the Buddhist saint had initiated a spiritual practice for monks to indulge themselves in secluded meditation in monasteries between May and June according to the Tibetan lunar calendar which is the middle of the summer in Tibet and referring to the western calendar, it is the July and Aug usually. The Gelukpa monasteries made this kind of monastery rule is because during the middle of the summer, there is full of small insects and worms on the grassland which are very difficult to see when you walk over.
The purpose was to avoid walking on the grassland where there is insect and worms which can be killed by your step on it, instead, in order to get rid of all other sins, pray and repent for their ill-doings. The discourse of meditation spanned several weeks, and when it was over, the monks would come out of seclusion, and local Tibetans would serve them yogurt and perform traditional Tibetan opera.
When is it celebrated
The Shoton Festival is celebrated in midsummers, on July 1st of Tibetan lunar calendar – which is why the date changes every year on the solar calendar. This year, the Shoton festival started on 11th August and end on August 18th, 2018.
Highlights of the Festival
The inclusion of a number of rituals, customs, and practices, over the course of time has made the shoton festival a lot more interesting and exciting. The preparations start weeks ahead of the festival, and as the date draws near, flocks of tourists start landing in Tibet from across the world.
The festival begins with a massive gathering of thousands of Tibetans gathered donned in ethnic Tibetan attires, all around the Drepung and Sera monasteries. Lamas and monks holding the giant Jampa Thangka, Matreya, the future Buddha or the Thangka of Buddha Shakyamuni, display on the western hill of Drepung monastery and as the sun rises from behind the hills, the loud sound of sutra bugle start echoing in the valley. The giant Jampa thangka is hung at the Drepung and Sera monastery, and this marks the official start of the festival.
The festivities continue for days, and hundreds of Tibetans take participate in it religiously every year. Regardless of whether you are a kid or an adult, a Tibetan or a tourist – there are a variety of activities for everyone.
The main highlights of the Shoton festival every year include Tibetan opera performance at Norbulingka Palace, an excellent display of stunts by skilled equestrians, yak racing, and other traditional sports. The itinerary of the festival also includes the ritual of Sangsa, in which Tuja leaves, butter, and Tsampa are burned together to get rid of evil, and the mob throws white Khada on the giant Thangka to catch blessings.
Nowadays, the Shoton festival goes on a week period of time and during this period of time, all the government officials are on holiday and not only thousands of tourists come from different places in the world, but also thousands of thousands Tibetans also come from different regions and they come to watch Tibetan opera in Norbu Lingka and Lukhang garden which is behind the Potala Palace. There is different Tibetan opera every year which is held by different Tibetan opera players from different regions in Tibet.
Facilities for tourists
The Shoton Festival takes place in pleasantly mild weather and is a good option for people looking to spend their summer holidays exploring ancient cultures and traditions. The government, tour operators as well as the local Tibetans make special arrangements to facilitate the tourists and make them feel at home and have more authentic experience of Tibetan culture. However, since there is a high influx of tourists in Tibet during the season, you may get difficult to find hotels and other arrangement of your trip if you don’t book in advance. Therefore, it is suggested that you reserve your trip to Tibet in advance through a reliable local Tibetan tour agency to make bookings on your behalf.