Shoton is the transliteration of two
Tibetan words which mean 'Yoghurt Banquet'. The festival originated
at Drepung Monastery, as a celebration to mark the end of the monks'
Yarné, their hundred day summer retreat.
It begins on the new moon marking the end of the
sixth Tibetan month. It includes performances of the musical dance dramas
known as Ache Lhamo (Tibetan Opera). In other parts of Tibet the dances are
part of the harvest festival, and yoghurt would be served at the feast which
followed. The Ache Lhamo dances are attributed to Thangtong Gyalpo, also known
as Chaksampa, a lama of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, also famous for
building iron chain bridges in many parts of Tibet. The popularity of this
festival was such that the government decreed it an annual event of a further
five days, established at the Norbulingka. There are performances by all the
established companies from throughout Tibet, some of which can perform the
whole Lhamo repertoire, and some who specialize in one particular drama. Some
of the stories are derived from Indian Buddhist legends, while others relate
incidents in Tibetan history.