Home > Festival History

Festival History

Shoton is a transliteration of two words in the Tibetan language which means "the Yoghurt (Sho) Banquet (Ton)", so this festival is featuring in eating yogurt, that's why the Shoton Festival is also called the Yoghurt Festival.

The history of Shoton Festival can be traced back to the 11th century when the Great Bangladeshi Buddhist Master Atisha was invited to Tibet to revive Buddhism that had been forbidden about two centuries on this highland, during which people suffered a lot from endless conflicts and wars. After decades of Atisha and his disciples' hard work, the Buddhism spirits of charity, forgiveness, love and peace became prevailed again in the society and for this, Atisha won much respect from people too; The Master Atisha likes eating Yoghurt, and the folks would present him with alms of yogurt when summer comes; reciprocally, the Master would pray for them. It is said that the livestock of the folks presenting yogurt to the Master would be free from disease, getting neither lost nor eaten by wild animals, with these known by more and more people, yogurt became a kind of holy food from that time.

Master Atisha

At that time, the doctrines of the Tibetan Buddhism had developed into more than 300 pieces, and the most important one is to avoid killing lives. While the vegetations became the most sufficient and the little creature all came out for food in summer, Atisha and his disciples all chose to stay inside the monastery to do meditation in case stamping any little creature into death outside. This summer meditation retreat lasts from April to the 30th, June according to the Tibetan calendar, and it is called "Yale" in the Tibetan language. However, staying only inside the monastery for 3 months long brought lots of problems too for lamas, among which, food insufficiency was the biggest one. In order to acknowledge the kindness that was practiced, and the hardness that was endured by the lamas during their summer meditation retreat in the monastery, hundreds of thousands of people would flood to the monastery and offer their best home-made yogurt to the lamas upon their return from retreat on the 30th, June, and that is how the Shoton Festival came into being.

Offerings to Lamas

In 1642, Gelupa sect of the Tibetan Buddhism took over the power in Tibet, and the Great Fifth Dalai Lama became the leader both in politics and religion. Thus, his dwelling place of Ganden Pochan at Drepung Monastery became the center of Tibetan politics, religion and culture. The great Fifth Dalai Lama was a fan of Tibetan opera, and it was under his decision that the Tibetan opera was introduced to the Shoton Festival. From that time, Tibetan opera has become a must-see highlight during the festival, yet at that time, the opera was only performed inside the Drepung Monastery and only open for lamas inside and some invited nobilities; but the Shoton Festival did take the lead in combing religion and entertainment on this forbidden land. The opera was performed in Drepung Monastery until 1653 when the Great 5th Dalai Lama moved his residence from Drepung Monastery to Potala Palace. However, when the 7th Dalai Lama was in power from 1720, he built Norbulingka Park as his summer palace in the western part of Lhasa city, and then, the stage for the Tibetan opera shifted to Norbulingka Park. And it is from that time too the Tibetan opera became open for the folks for the first time till now it becomes a must-see highlight for the folks during the festival.

Great 5th Dalai Lama

Looking back again the Shoton Festival's 1000 years history at Drepung Monastery, Potala Palace and Norbulingka Park, you will easily find this time-honored festival has rooted deeply into generations of Tibetan people's life. The festival is surely the best time for any explorer to come to this mysterious land to discover and understand this old nation's religion, culture and tradition.