Dharamshala — The 20th Tibetan Shoton Festival is officially underway after the opening ceremony, held at the Tibetan Institute of the Performing Arts on 27 March 2015. After a day of preparing, cleaning, and adorning prayer flags along TIPA Road, His Holiness the Dalai Lama swept through on his way to gracing the opening ceremony.
Just before 9 am, when the performance was slotted to begin, His Holiness arrived to a swelling crowd that watched him take his seat in the topmost balcony overlooking TIPA's stage. Before sitting down to enjoy the performance he stood briefly at the window and waved happily to the crowd below. Today's event was attended by over 4000 people.
The Tibetan Opera (Shoton) festival is a centuries-old tradition, which has its roots in ancient India. When Buddha's teaching flourished in India, monks were not allowed to beg for alms. The sponsors, devotees and patrons instead would come to the monasteries to make offerings in form of milk and curd, thus beginning the festival tradition.
The festival later became associated with Tibetan opera in the 15th Century when popular opera troups of the time including Gyalkhara, Kyormulunpa, Dri Ghungwa, Shangpa and Chungpa were invited to perform at the courtyard of Norbulingka during the commemorative enthronement anniversary of the His Holiness the Great Fifth Dalai Lama.
Under the advising of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts organised the First Grand Shoton Opera Festival in exile in 1993. Over the years, the festival grew in prominence both in scale and quality, as new opera associations sprung up across Tibetan settlements in India and Nepal.
At this year's festival, TIPA director, Wangdu Tsering, began the ceremony by listing the three special celebrations that come with this year's Shoton Festival. This year marks both the 25th anniversary of His Holiness the Dalai Lama's Nobel Peace Prize and his 80th birthday, in addition to the 20th anniversary of the Shoton festival beginning in exile. He stressed the importance of the Lhamo, or opera, tradition in Tibetan culture, especially during this time of Chinese occupation in Tibet and the destruction of Tibetan culture. "These days, Tibetan and Chinese cultures are mixing, convoluting what is pure Tibetan. Tibetan artists are arrested without crime and kept in jail. But these policies are impossible to keep forever, they have to end at somepoint." He gave a special thank you to His Holiness the Dalai Lama for bringing Tibetan culture to the international community through his extended kindness and unrelenting efforts.
This year's festival includes 12 different troupes of performers from India and Nepal. The full schedule is as such:
27 March Premier presentation of opera extract by participating troups before His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
28 March Khen Lob Choesum performed by the Tibetan Homes Foundation, Mussoorie
29 March Sugkyi Nyima performed by Kalimpong Tibetan Opera Association
30 March Nangsa Woebum performed by Mundgod Opera Association, Doeguling
31 March Khewo Pema Woebar performed by Phuntsokkling Tibetan Opera Association, Odisha
1 April Drowa Sangmo performed by Norgayling Cholsum Opera Association, Bhandara
2 April Jowo Jhe Palden Atisha performed by Tibetan Opera Performing Arts, Bylakuppe
3 April Gyalpo Jigten performed by Phendeling Opera Association, Mainpat
4 April Chaksam performed by Nepal Tibetan Lhamo Association
5 April Life of Buddha performed by Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, Dharamshala
All performances will take place at TIPA, Dharamshala and will begin at 9:00 am.