It's one of the Tibetan traditional festivals. In Tibetan, "sho" means "Yoghurt''and "ton" means "banquet". So Shoton Festival is also called the 'Yoghurt Festival'. Subsequently, as the activities of Shoton Festival gradually changed into an activity with Tibetan opera as a major part, so people also called it the Tibet Opera Festival. Prior to the 17th century, Shoton had been an exclusively religious observance. The month of June on the Tibetan calendar was reserved for self-cultivation and meditation for all the monks who were not allowed to go out of monasteries until July 1, when local residents would offer alms of yogurt (Sho, in Tibetan), that's how The Shoton Festival came into being. From around the mid-17th century, Tibetan local operas were added to festival celebrations. In the beginning of the 18th century, Norbu Lingka was built and acted as the summer palace of Dalai. Then the main site of the festival was moved to Norbu Lingka and celebrations became formalized. Accordingly, the fixed Shoton Festival was established. In the old Tibet, the activities of the Shoton Festival went like this: on the 29th of the sixth month, troupes all through Tibet would go to the Potala Palace and registered in the local government. Curt performances was given at the ceremony and then they would worship Dalai at Norbu Lingka, and returned to Dreprung Monastery in the evening. On the 30th , Zang opera would be performed all day at Dreprung Monastery.
On the 1st of July, all the troupes would give performances together at Norbu Lingka. From 2nd to 5th of July, troupes from Gyantse , An' rang, Nanmulin and Lhasa performed one day in turn. During the festival, the Gesa government took a holiday. All the officials woull assemble at Norbu Lingka and enjoyed the performances with Dalai. At noon, a banquet was given to treat all the officials, and Yoghurt was served. The residents in Lhasa and peasants from suburb would dress up ,take along food and drinks and go to Norbu Lingks for the performances .
The Shoton Festival is one of the most ancient festivals in Tibet. According to the traditional Tibetan calendar, the festival is to be held on 30th day of the sixth month. During the festival visitors from all over the world assemble in Lhasa for the sacred event. Early on the morning of August 4, when the rays of the sun have not yet risen over the mountains, the great mass of participants walk to Drepung Monastery, the largest monastery in Tibet, located in a west suburb of Lhasa. When people arrive at Wuzi Hill, near the Drepung Monastery, a huge figure of Qiangba stands covered by yellow voile. Onlookers stand captivated by the towering figure of Buddha, standing 30 meters high and 35 meters wide, adding to the mysterious ambiance of the morning. The booming sound of the sacred clarions and the aroma of the mulberry smoke saturate the hill. People wait silently for that sacred moment when the figure of Buddha would be revealed. At around 7:40am, when the yellow voile is slowly opened, sudden sunshine radiates upon the figure of Buddha. The pious onlookers are immediately awe struck at the sight of Buddha shinning brilliantly in the sun. The thrilled visitors then respectfully present Hada to the figure of Buddha, one after another, some driven to tears, deeply affected by Buddha's healing presence. The occasion is of such great significance that it has been said even if it is raining on the morning of the unveiling, the rain will stop and the sky will clear, so that the sun can fall upon Buddha.
The Shoton festival, also known by the Tibetans as "the yogurt drinking feast," was initially performed in order to further Tibetan Buddhism more than 700 years ago. Zongkaba, the founder of the Yellow Factor made firm rules which required the Lamas to cultivate themselves according to the religious doctrine from the fourth to sixth month of the Tibetan calendar. After this period, the Lamas could come out of the monastery and local citizens would have a celebration for them where they presented the lamas with yogurt.
There are three major programs with which visitors can be involved during the Shoton Festival: The Tibetan Opera in Norbulingka, the Showing of the Giant Figure of Buddha in the Zepang Monastery, and the picnic in Norbulingka.