DHARAMSALA, APRIL 20: The 23rd 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.
President of the Central Tibetan Administration(CTA) Dr Lobsang Sangay attended the opening ceremony of the festival as the Chief Guest along with the Speaker of the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile, Khenpo Sonam Tenphel and 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 festival, which was earlier scheduled to be held over April 18-23, was postponed by two days in solidarity with the tragic bus accident in Himachal Pradesh that killed 27 people including 23 children.
President Sangay spoke about the historical importance of the Tibetan opera on the preservation of Tibetan culture and promotion of social work as well as about the opera cultures across the world. He also said opera plays a significant role to express political dissent and dissatisfaction.
A total of twelve opera troupes, one from Nepal and the rest from the Tibetan settlements across India, are participating in this year’s Shoton festival. Each troupe presented a short excerpt of their performance on the opening day.
TIPA will host the opera performances from April 21-25 while parallel performances will take place at Norbulingka Institute and TCV School Chauntra from April 21-23.
The festival will conclude on April 25 after an opera titled ‘Gyalsa Bhelsa’ to be performed by artistes of TIPA.
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 yogurt 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 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.