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C elebrating the S hoton F estival in L hasa

In the early morning mist, thousands and thousands of people were climbing along the narrow, winding mountain paths.
The had all come to watch the "Sunning of the Buddha" ceremony.

Lhasa's streets were suddenly filled with a boisterous atmoospere on the eve of the shoton Festival. Shoton is the Tibetan work for offering yoghurt". This festival takes place on the first day of the seventh month of the Tibetan calendar, on the day the Fifth Dalai Lama had his tonsure "shaving of the head"). Thousands of Buddhist devotees from all over Tibet come to Lhasa to worship and offer yoghurt to the lamas. It is also a good opportunity to watch Tibetan operas.

In the dim light of the street lamps, crowds were gathering as people poured out their homes in the early morning. As the human torrent moved towards the Drepung Monastery there was an air of solemnity and holiness in the atmosphere. People began climbing the hill as an enormous mass, the sound of their tramping and voices resounding in the Lhasa River Valley. They has all come to watch the "Sunning of the Buddha" ceremony. What a spectacular sight it was.

carry the portrait of the BuddhaPRAYERS LIKE A ROARING SEA

As down broke out beyond the mountain peaks, the foot of the hill was already a sea of worshippers. Tourists, however, flocked to the slopes to watch. Suddenly, monks on the roof of a three-storey palace building started blowing theri long, silver horns. All across the ravine, people started burning fragrant incense, and threw tsamba (barley) and holy water into the air. Purplish smoke rose up and spread around, threatening to fill the entire sky. I was impatiently stretching my neck to look for the lamas who should be carrying the Buddha up the path by now, when a yong Tibetan boy nearby remarked, "Look up the hill." Knowing that there would be too many worshippers on the mountain paths, the lamas had carried the Buddha to the hilltop the night before.

worshippers turn their prayer wheels near Drepung MonasteryNow, more than a hundred lamas had formed one long line across the hilltop and were slowly letting the huge, silk-woven picture of the Buddha unfold down the hillside. A large number of other lamas were burning incense and chanting sutras as they bowed their welcome to the Buddha. Meanwhile, four monks mounted a huge boulder and, facing the east, started to blow on their horns. By now, the entire portrait of the Buddha had unfolded before the crowd, so huge in size it could cover a six- or seven-storey building. At that moment, a golden shaft of sunlight lit up his kind and holy features. Tens of thousands of worshippers at once prostrated themselves before it, their chanting of prayers rising and falling like the roaring waves of a tumultuous sea.

At noon, the silver horns blew again and several hundred ecclesiastics, clad in a purplish red kasaya, rolled up the huge portrait and in two lines, one on either side, carried it along the undulating path toward Drepung Monastery. From afar, the scene was like a white dragon swimming along, with worshippers on either side of the path pressing towards it, throwing tsamba at it or offering hatas (white silk scarves) to it. The worshippers touched the Buddha's portrait with their foreheads or simply joined the carriers, all in the hope that their acts of devotion would win them better a round in their Next life.

Tibetan Opera being performedCELEBRATING AT NORBU LINKA

At this moment, in Norbu Linka, formerly the Dalai Lama's summer resort and now a 36-hectare park, the numerous tents put up to celebrate the Shoton Festival had virtually filled the entire grounds. Tibetan opera performers, wearing the traditional masks and colourful costumes, were singing and dancing to the rapid beating of the drums. For this year's festival, the programs performed, among others, were Princess wencheng and Prince Norsang.

A Tibetan sitting cross-legged in the front row, his cheeksnow flushed from drinking barley wine, said, "I enjoy the Shoton Festival even more than our tibetan New Year. Now we can celebrate it here in Norbu Linka, an impressive, tranquil park which in the old dayswas out of bounds for us ordinary Tibetans.



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