The Shoton Festival is one of the most popular traditional festivals in Tibet. It celebrates eating yogurt, the Tibetan monks end their session of meditation and watching Tibetan dramatic operas. The Shoton Festival has become a comprehensive celebration that influences the culture of Tibet. It is a great occasion for both Tibetans and tourists. It has also become a market time, and a time for competitions, performances and entertainment. Attending the festival gives visitors a special feel for Tibet and its culture. The best place to go on this special festival is Norbulingka.
On the first day of the festival, the Thangka is scheduled to be unveiled at the Drepung Monastery. Then the celebrations will begin at Norbulingka. The residents of Lhasa will gather in the park and celebrate by eating yoghurt and watching the operas. Professional and amateur Tibetan opera troupes annually gather in the Norbulingka and perform various Tibetan operas. Along with the Tibetan operas and other religious activities, visitors can also watch yak races, horse races and dance.
The prelude of the Shoton Festival is the Buddha exhibition in Drepung Monastery. The tranquil valley becomes excited. With the sound of a horn reverberating through the valley, about 100 lamas will carry the large-scale Thangka portraying Qamba Buddha out of the Coqen Hall of the Drepung Monastery and walking towards the west of the monastery where a special platform is set up for the Buddha picture exhibition. At that moment, the mulberry smoke rises from all directions, horns resound and scripture chanting starts. The large Thangka will then be slowly opened up. People rush up to offer white Khata. Countless Khata fly in front of the Buddha picture forming a great scene. Within two hours, the Thangka will be rolled up again and carried back.
Another important part of the Shoton Festival is Tibetan Opera. One can’t miss it. Starting from the second day of the Shoton Festival, Tibetan Opera is performed from about 11:00 a.m. until dusk every day at the Norbulingka and at another park near the Potala Palace. Due to the limited time, the performances are only a distillation of actual Tibetan Opera. Real Tibetan Operas may go on for several days. During the Shoton Festival, the Tibetans bring along the old and the young. The Norbulingka and other parks of Lhasa are dotted with colorful tents.