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Festival Activities

From merely a religious observance within the monastery into a public festival for the whole nation, the Shoton Festival itself includes many interesting and marvelous activities; they are mainly Great Buddha Display, Tibetan Opera Show and Horsemanship & Yak Race Show.

1. Great Buddha Display

The 500-square-meter (598-square-yard) large Great Buddha Display on the hillside back to the Drepung Monastery is the prelude to the festival, in order to get a better position to view the unveiling of the Great Buddha, some Tibetan people wake up as early as 2 or 3 A.M. to rush to the monastery. You will find people jostling each other in the crowd even you have been there at 5 A.M., and the whole mountain will be fully dotted with people before the daybreak. About 7 A.M., along with the sutra horns blaring though the valley, the 20 meters long folded Buddha in the monastery will be carried by scores of the strongest lamas all the way to the big platform built along the hillside for unveil and display. At 8:00 A.M., as the sutra horn and scripture reciting goes on, a huge figure of Sakyamuni embroidered in color is gradually unfolded; at the same time, the first light, blazing through the morning mist, shines on the Great Buddha, which is called the combination of deities and mankind. Then followers will start worship and present Khada to the Great Buddha, and touch the Great Buddha by the forehead to show devotion, praying for safety, happiness and fortune.

This ceremony is known as the Great Buddha Display which marks the beginning of the annual Tibetan Shoton Festival.

Great Buddha Display

2. Tibetan Opera Show

From 10 A.M. on the same day, the best Tibetan Opera troupes from Lhasa, Shigatse and Shannan will gather around at the Norbulingka Park to perform operas, the Norbulingka Park used to be the Summer Palace from the 7th Dalai Lama. The opera show lasts 7 days, but only 8 of the most classical and popular operas will be performed alternately, such as Princess Wenchen, Prince Norsang, Trowa Sonam, Maiden Langsa and etc.

Over the centuries, Tibetan opera stagecraft has developed three main parts: Appearance Ceremony (Wenba Dun), Episode Show (Xiong) and Ending Ceremony (Tashi).

The appearance ceremony is known as the "Wenba Dun" in the Tibetan language, "Wenba" means characters in mask, "Dun" means opening ceremony; in this section, characters in mask who are in the role of hunters with bow in hand will dance onto stage firstly, which means cleaning and purifying the stage from monsters; and then "Jialu" (Prince) in the costume of a Prince will step on the stage, symbolizing power from the royal, to bless the stage and audience; next, "Lhamo" (fairies) will dance onto stage gracefully, which means fairies come down to earth to enjoy this happy moment with human beings, all these form a grand and characteristic prelude to the main opera episode show.

Wenba Dun

The episode show is known as "Xiong" in the Tibetan language; a narrator will come out to introduce performers and explain plot section by section while the opera is performed, the episode show will go with plot but of few dances and songs.

Opera Episode

The ending ceremony is known as "Tashi" in the Tibetan language which means "propitious" and "good luck"; in this section, as the opera concludes, all the performers will dance and sing again. While receiving storms of applause from the audience, the performers will also at the same time extend their best wishes to the audience and hope all people have a propitious and lucky year.

Opera Ending

3. Horsemanship & Yak Race Show

Another must-see highlight is the Horsemanship & Yak Race Show which is held at the 9 A.M. at Lhasa Race Course on the second day. Unlike equestrian competition in the Olympic Games, the riders at the horsemanship show ride horses at a very difficult and breathtaking way. For example, you will see 6 riders standing on the horseback in a shape of a pyramid while horse running very fast. After the thrilling horsemanship show, you will see the very interesting Yak Race Show. When the game starts, some yaks just do not move no matter how riders beat, while some just run about aimlessly out of riders' control; these bulky fellows are always able to make audience cannot help laughing. Besides those two shows, you will also see other competitions, such as tug of war, stone-lifting and etc. In one word, those shows and competitions can only be found in Tibet, and they exclusively reflect this old nation's valiancy, wisdom and naturalness.

Yak Race Show