DHARAMSALA, 6 April: The 25th Annual Shoton Festival commonly known as the Tibetan Opera Festival to celebrate the age-old tradition of Ache Lhamo (Tibetan Opera) began today at the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA) in Dharamsala.
This year’s festival includes performances by opera associations from Tibetan Homes Foundation Mussorie, Poanta, Kalimpong, Bandara, Kollegal and TIPA and from India, and a troupe each from Nepal and the US. Each troupe presented a short excerpt of their performance on the opening day. The festival will be held from 6-13 April at TIPA.
Though there are 13 known opera troops in exile, only eight could make it to the festival this year.
Sonam Choephel, the Acting Director of TIPA said that five opera troops couldn’t make it to this year’s festival “owing to attrition of artists and the event coinciding with the enrolment of students for the new academic session.”
He thanked the Kashag(cabinet) the USAID and the Tibet Fund for their “continued support in preservation and promotion of this unique tradition of folk opera.”
The festival will conclude on 13 April after an opera titled ‘Choegyal Norsing’ to be performed by artists of TIPA.
His Eminence the 7th Kyabje Yongzin Ling Rinpoche who graced the festival presented the 13 known opera troupes in exile with a statue of Thangtong Gyalpo.
The President of the Central Tibetan Administration(CTA) Penpa Tsering attended the opening ceremony of the festival as the Chief Guest with the Chairman of Religion and Cultural Affairs of Arunachal Pradesh, Jamphel Wangdue as the special guest along with the representatives of the three pillars of the Tibetan democracy as well as members of the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile and officials of the Central Tibetan Administration.
The CTA President spoke about the historical importance of the Tibetan opera in the preservation of Tibetan culture and urged the congregation to learn to engage in social work besides enjoying the opera which he said will fall in line with Thangtong Gyalp’s commitment to social work.
With Tibetan Homes Foundation Mussorie being the lone opera troupe from Tibetan schools across India, he called for more participation from schools as he said that will go a long way in preserving the art.
The Shoton Festival is said to have begun in Tibet at Drepung monastery in the 1830s to celebrate the end of Yarney, a month-long retreat led by monks. Crowds from Lhasa would visit Drepung and offer the monks yoghurt and various dairy products.
‘Sho’ translates to yoghurt in Tibetan and ‘ton’ means feast. For a whole month, the lay Tibetans and monks would celebrate the summer by inviting opera troupes to perform. Gradually, the festival quickly became widely popular.
As advised by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the ancient Tibetan festival which dates back to the 18th Century was revived in exile by TIPA in 1993.
The tradition of performing Ache Lhamo or Tibetan Opera is believed to have started by Thangtong Gyalpo, a Tibetan yogi and mystic in the 14th-century to raise funds to build iron suspension bridges to ease travel along the river-infested valleys of Tibet.
Thangtong Gyalpo has built 58 iron bridges and 60 wooden bridges across towns and villages in Tibet and Bhutan; some of his iron chain bridges still stand today.