What's the Meaning of the Shoton Festival
Though Shoton is grandest festival in Tibet, few people can corretly answer the question: what's the meaning of the Shoton Festival. In fact, the meaning of Shoton Festival has changed with the development of Tibet. Now, Shoton Festival has three meanings, yogurt banquet, Buddha unfolding ceremony and Tibetan opera festival.
Originally, the festival was purely religious. Monks would spend weeks in retreat. When they emerged, it was the custom for commoners to give them yogurt. Hence the festival's name Shoton which means "yogurt banquet" in Tibetan language. Legend has it that Tsong Khapa, founder of the Yellow Sect of Tibetan Buddhism made it a rule that all lamas must do meditations from the fourth month to the sixth month of the Tibetan year. Abstinence is broken by the end of the sixth month. On this day, by tradition, pilgrims will go to monasteries to offer their homemade yogurt to monks who have been long constricted by religious rituals inside monasteries. In this way, people show their thanks to the merciful lamas for their love and protection to the little and prosperous lives in the nature.
Tibetan yogurt on Shoton Festival
It is high time to enjoy various kinds of homemade yogurt during the Shoton Festival. The reason of the connection between Shoton and yogurt has a long history. There are more than 300 pieces of Tibetan religious tenets and the most important one is to avoid killing lives. As all animals come out for food in summer, it is easy to kill those small worms. So during June 15th to July 30th, lamas are ordered to do nothing but staying inside their monasteries for penance, which is called Yale in Tibetan language. However, staying inside monasteries for the whole day means no enough food for the lamas. And it is said that livestock of local families offering yogurt to lamas are free of disease, can never get lost, nor are eaten by wild animals. With these known by more and more local people, offering yogurt to lamas is becoming an activity during the Shoton Festival.
Tibetan lamas are preparing for Buddha unfolding ceremony.
While to Buddhists, this holy ceremony is a purification of the sprit and the soul. A giant Buddha painting is displayed in Drepung Monastery. To all Tibetans, this is a magical moment. All of them flock to Drepung to worship the Buddha. A special connection is formed that nobody has ever fully explained, but can, they say, be felt rooted in their hearts, rooted in their unique world. As for us outsiders; well, we can almost breathe it in the air. That’s the reason why Shoton Festival is also called as “Buddha Unfolding Ceremony”.
Tibetan Opera Festival
"Shoton" is also known as the "Tibetan Opera Festival" as competitive performances of Ache Lhamo (Tibetan Opera) are held at the Norbu Lingka in Lhasa during Shoton Festival.