Drepung Monastery Buddha Unfolding: top Buddhist Festival in Lhasa summer
Every year, the Buddha Thangka in Drepung Monastery is unfolded during the Shoton Festival. The exhibition ceremony was witnessed by tens of thousands of believers as well as tourists. Why this ceremony can get attention from so many people? Our well-experienced local travel expert will answer you from the following aspects: the origin of Buddha unfolding in Drepung and Shoton Festival, how Tibetan monks unveil gigantic Thangka Buddha, famous Buddhas shown in the Thangka and the best places to enjoy Buddha unfolding in Drepung.
Origin of Buddha Unfolding in Drepung Monastery and Shoton Festival
Shoton Festival was merely a religious activity before the 17th century. In spring and summer, as the weather starts getting warm, plants grow and insects awaken and all the things come to life again. Thus, the Gelug Sect of Buddhism has a regulation that between Tibetan April and June, Lamas can only practice Buddhism in monasteries to avoid stepping on and killing tiny insects.
Until the end of June, Lamas are allowed to go outside the monasteries and go downhill. Usually, local people will reward Lamas with yogurt, outdoor banquets, as well as performances of traditional Tibetan Opera. Thus, Shoton Festival gets its name as “Yogurt Banquet Festival” and “Tibetan Opera Festival”.
Nowadays, as the prelude of the festival, the Drepung Monastery Buddha exhibition is the most striking ceremony during the Shoton Festival in Tibet. On the day of the Shoton Festival, a gigantic Thangka Buddha with 30 meters high and 20 meters wide will be displayed on the hillside outside the monastery at sunrise. Local people and tourists crowd into Drepung Monastery to pray for the peace of all beings and auspiciousness in front of Thangka. Hence, it’s also reputed as “Buddha Exhibition Festival”.
How Do Tibetan Monks Unveil Gigantic Thangka Buddha
With the first ray of sunlight spreading over Drepung Monastery, the ceremonial monk team carry the large-scale Thangka portraying of Sakyamuni (or Qamba Buddha) out of the Coqen Hall of Drepung Monastery to the hillside. Accompanied by the solemn sound of the horn, an old monk with a yellow Hada leads the team, passing the winding kora road towards the west of the monastery. Then the Buddha statue of Sakyamuni (or Qamba Buddha) is invited to the exhibition platform of Gambo Utse Mountain. Finally, in the prayer of the worshipers, the huge Thangka Buddha is fully displayed with the yellow protective cover rising up.
Hence the tranquil Lhasa valley becomes hilarious. Horns blare, all monks chant the scripture and pray, believers present white Hada to the "Thangka" and touch it by forehead to show devotion and pray for peace and happiness. You must be touched by the countless holy Hada flying in front of the Thangka Buddha and pilgrims’ devout faith in Tibetan Buddhism.
The ceremonial monk team are carrying the large-scale Thangka Buddha to Gebeiwoze Mountain.
The Lamas in Drepung Monastery are following kora route to the Buddha exhibition platform.
The monks are playing the horns for the opening ceremony of Shoton Festival.
The Giant Thangka is fully unfurled in front of pilgrims and visitors.
Famous Buddhas Shown in the Thangka
Thangka is a traditional Tibetan painted tapestry or cloth scroll. The content of thangka varies quite a bit. They usually contain portraits of the Bodhisattva, giant mandalas, and images of Buddhas. Usually, there are two famous Thangka Buddhas displayed in Drepung Shoton Festival, namely, Qamba Buddha and Sakyamuni Buddha. However, the two Thangkas won’t be shown in the same year.
Sakyamuni Buddha is one of the most popular and widespread Thangka Buddhas in Tibet. It always shows in the form of sitting cross-legged in Padmasana posture, with his right hand touching the earth. Shakyamuni Buddha was the founder of Buddhism. His real name was Siddhartha Gautama. At the age of 29, Siddhartha renounced his royal heritage to experience the life of a religious wanderer. After gaining profound insight into the true nature of the world, he achieved the enlightenment at the age of 35. Since then, he was called “Buddha” or “Awakened One”. His unique insight had a profound impact on Buddhism. Therefore, the image of Sakyamuni Buddha is widely used in Thangka and demonstrated on Shoton Festival.
Qamba Buddha, the Maitreya of Han Buddhism, is the future Buddha of Tibetan Buddhism. It is one of the main Buddha statues enshrined in Tibetan monasteries. Qamba Buddha statue in Tashilhunpo Monastery of Shigatse is the tallest copper sitting Buddha in the world, with a height of 26.7 meters. According to Buddhist scriptures, Qamba was born in a Brahmin family in the ancient Indian. Later, he became a Buddhist disciple with Sakyamuni. It is said that after Qamba left the world, he would teach Dharma at Heaven so that he can help people eliminate suffering and lead them to enlightenment.
Best Places to Enjoy Buddha Unfolding in Drepung Monastery
Buddha unfolding is a main and important activity in Shoton Festival. If you want to take great shots of the exquisite Thangka Buddha, you’d better prepare well in advance. Here are three vantage points given by our local Tibetan tour guide.
Taking a great shoot of Thangka Buddha in Drepung Shoton Festival.
You can appreciate it on the hillside opposite the Drepung Monastery, where you can see the whole monastery, not to mention the Thangka Buddha. The hill on the left side of the exhibition platform is also a good choice. And undoubtedly, there would be crowded with thousands of Tibetan worshipers presenting Hada to the Buddha on this day. So please follow our travel guide to avoid losing in the crowds. The last is the ruins behind the Drepung Monastery, where you can capture the clear view of Thangka Buddha and the entire Lhasa Valley.
Other Highlights to Enjoy during Shoton Festival
In addition to Buddha exhibition, Tibetan opera performances and horse race are also worth watching during Shoton Festival. The combination of these activities represent the best part of Tibetan religious tradition and culture.
Starting from the second day of the Shoton Festival, Tibetan Opera is performed all day at the Norbulingka and Longwangtan Park, which epitomizes Tibetan culture and combines dancing, chanting, singing, and the religious masks altogether.
The fierce horse racing in Shoton Festival is a favorite activity for locals and tourists, presenting you the wonderful performance of traditional equestrianism via shooting arrows, picking flower-basket on the horseback, etc. Participants will dress in fabulous attire and proudly display their riding skills. In the evening, you can join in the bonfire party with locals to sing and dance leisurely.
Enjoying Tibetan opera performances during Shoton Festival.
The annual horse racing show is a favorite performance for Tibetans.
Shoton Festival is one of the most important traditional festivals in Tibet. Tourists can not only enjoy the giant Buddha exhibited in Drepung Monastery, but also watch the mysterious opera performance at Norbulingka and horse racing competition in the Lhasa suburbs. Any interests in Shoton Festival? Here we offer you the detailed itinerary of 5 Days Shoton Festival Experience Tour.
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