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Ancient ritual rolled out as festival begins

By Daqiong and Palden Nyima in Lhasa Source: China Daily 2023-08-18

People visit a giant thangka marking the start of the annual Shoton Festival on Wednesday in Lhasa. [Photo by Daqiong/chinadaily.com.cn]

Annual Lhasa event sees thangka shown to thousands of enthusiastic onlookers

Thousands of residents formed long lines in Lhasa on Wednesday to visit a giant thangka exhibition — religious images embroidered in silk — to mark the beginning of the annual Shoton, or Yogurt Festival.

The festival, held in the Drepung Monastery, is one of the most important traditional holidays in the capital of the Tibet autonomous region. It is also known as Yogurt Festival, as sho is yogurt in Tibetan, and ton means banquet.

The event usually lasts for seven days, and the activities include artistic performances, Tibetan operas, horse racing, Tibetan chess competitions and concerts, along with activities to promote investment in Lhasa.

At around 7 am, monks from the Drepung Monastery started the preparatory work for the exhibition by transporting a giant thangka to the site.

Before the thangka was moved, a Tibetan Buddhist religious ceremony was held at the monastery.

Accompanied by a cacophony of dharma horns, hundreds of local residents followed the team carrying the thangka on its route to the exhibition platform.

At around 8 am, as the first rays of sunlight hit the summits of the distant mountains in the Lhasa valley, the giant thangka was gradually unfolded from top to bottom — its width reaching 37 meters and height 40 meters.

Nyagwang Choizin, deputy director of the Drepung Monastery Management Committee, said, with a history of at least 500 years the monastery holds a thangka exhibition every year on the 30th day of the sixth month of the Tibetan calendar.

"The embroidery on the thangka being exhibited today was produced in 2016 to mark the 600th anniversary of the founding of the Drepung Monastery," said Nyagwang Choizin.

"The thangka exhibited before 2016 was an image of the Buddha Sakyamuni, which has a history of 500 years. Therefore, we chose to exhibit the new thangka this time to preserve the old one."

Nyagwang Choizin said displaying the thangka is related to the monastery's religious traditions.

The date on which it is exhibited coincides with the summer retreat of monks of the Drepung and other Geluk School monasteries of Tibetan Buddhism.

Lhasa residents have a tradition of offering yogurt to the monks at this time. In return, the monks hold the exhibition for the residents.

Tenzin Drolma, a local resident, said she got up early in the morning to attend the event, and was very pleased to visit the exhibition.

"By visiting the exhibition I hope there will be peace all around the world, people will have longevity and not suffer from illnesses, and all living beings no longer suffer from sadness," she said.

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