Another great Tibetan Festival is the Shoton Festival which is celebrated from the 15th to the 24th of the fifth lunar month of the Tibetan Calendar. In the Roman Calendar, this period coincides with the middle of the month of August. “Shoton” is a Tibetan word that etymologically means “yogurt banquet.” It started as festival in 16th century when lay people, in appreciation of the monthlong fasting and abstinence of the monks in the monasteries, began to offer a banquet that to the monks after their monthlong retreat.
This simple banquet became the beginning of the colorful Shoton Festival which, later on, featured summer operas (Lhamo). These operas usually last all day long, punctuated by euphoric and melodious clashing of cymbals, drums, and bells, together with the incisive recitations of harmonious choruses. In these operas, you’ll see swirling girls wearing long sleeves, hooded villains, and leaping devils.
What to Expect During the Shoton Festival?
During the celebration of the Shoton Festival, you can expect to see hundreds of Tibetan People who are gathering at the Sera and Drepung Monasteries all dressed-up in their colorful ethnic attires. You would also witness, early in the morning, those “Lamas” who carry the giant “Jampa Thangka” leading to the foot hill of the Gebeiwotse Mountain to hang it there. Moreover, you’ll hear the reverberation of the sufra bugle all throughout the valley. As you visit the Drepung and Sera Monastery, you’ll also see the giant Jampa Thangka hanged by the huge improvised scaffold.
At the Norbulingka Palace, you can also witness operatic performances all day long. Moreover, you’ll be able to enjoy yak racing and displays of horsemanship; while hundreds of journalists and tourists from around the world try to document and witness the unfolding of these festive events. Lastly, you will get to witness the “Sangsol” the burning of Tuja leaves together with butter and Tsampa.
When to Visit Tibet to Experience the Shoton Festival?
Shoton Festival is a significant festival that is based on the Tibetan Calendar. Its exact date of celebration varies year after year because the Tibetan Calendar is a lunisolar calendar, meaning, it is dependent on the phases of the moon and the solar year. In 2017, it was celebrated on the 21st of August; while in 2018, it was celebrated on the 11th of August. If you plan to experience the 2019 Shoton Festival, you should schedule your Tibetan Tour from August 30 to September 5.
Shoton Festival belongs to the best times to visit Tibet because the weather during this Festival belongs to the finest that Tibet would ever have. The downside, however, of traveling during this period include higher costs of train and air tickets and more costly hotel rooms and other related services.
Significant Events and Places to Visit during the Shoton Festival
During the Shoton Festival, you should not miss the unveiling of the Jampa Thangka at the Drepung Monastery early in the morning. This unveiling ceremony is generally scheduled at 8:30 in the morning at the Drepung Monastery. But this celebration starts early on at around 4am when activities like the “Sunning the Buddha” commences. The pinnacle of this event ends in the unveiling of the huge Thangka on a specially made platform at the foot of the hill. This spectacular scenario is capped by the throwing of white Hada towards the direction of the giant Thangka. This is surely a marvelous scene to behold and document using your camera.
You should also not miss the great performance of the Tibetan Operas at Norbulingka Palace later in the afternoon. These operas start at around 11:00 am and last until dusk. Moreover, the main festivities during the Shoton Festival generally happen in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. As a caveat, however, you should take extra precaution and care of yourself for there would surely be thousands of people joining these festivities.
There are myriads of food and snack stands alongside the roads and highways, especially, near the Norbulingka Palace and along those roads leading to the Drepung Monastery. The front gate of the Norbulingka Palace is likewise replete with food stands from where you can buy various Tibetan delicacies. Lastly, if ever you intend to time your visit to Tibet during the Shoton Festival, you should readily contact us and we will book you the appropriate Shoton Festival Tour of Tibet.