Updated 2:12 PM EST, Wed, Jan 29, 2020

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Shoton Festival Begins in Tibet


(Photo : Reuters) The display of a huge painting of Buddha heralds the start of the Shoton Festival in Tibet.

With the unfurling of a 500-square-meter painting of the Buddha outside Drepung Monastery, Tibet celebrated the beginning of the Shoton Festival. Called a Thangka, the depiction is so large it must be displayed on the nearby slopes of Mt. Gephel west of the regional capital of Lhasa.

Also known as the Yogurt Festival, a nod to the traditional fare served, the Shoton attracts tens of thousands of people, Buddhist devotees and visitors alike. Heralding the end of the Tibetan meditative season, the ceremony is traced back to an 11th-century tradition when locals offered yogurt to monks just finishing their meditations. It has since grown to be one of Tibet's most popular events. 

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By the 1600s, the Shoton Festival evolved into a more recognizable form, including Tibetan operas, dance, and other entertainment including yak racing and horsemanship exhibitions.

But while a top tourist draw, the Shoton is still a deeply religious occasion in a land where the Buddhist tradition is nearly inescapable. The faithful assemble before the Thangka with traditional scarves known as khatas. They touch their foreheads with the khatas to show devotion, and pray for safety, happiness, and good fortune.

Some residents wake up as early as 2 a.m. to get a good line of sight of the giant painting, which is not even moved from its vault in the monastery until five hours later. The blaring of horns signal the unfurling and the official start of the Shoton, which lasts nearly a week.

After the opening ceremony at Drepung, festivities move to the parks and gardens of Norbulingka Palace in Lhasa which become the stages for dancing and the operas, whose fantastical costumes give a surreal air to the celebrations. 

Tibetan holidays follow the lunar calendar. As such, festivals like the Shoton shift their dates from year to year. The Yogurt Festival usually occurs within August.

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