News and Views on Tibet

Tibet’s annual Yogurt Festival overshadowed by heavy police presence and restrictions

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The highlight of the festival is the viewing of a grand 500-square-meter embroidered thangka portrait of the Buddha (Photo/RFA)

By Tsering Dhundup

DHARAMSHALA, August 23:This year’s edition of Tibet’s annual yoghurt festival or Shoton festival has been marred by an overwhelming police presence and stringent restrictions by Chinese authorities.

The yoghurt festival, observed from August 16th to 22nd, is a cherished tradition deeply rooted in Tibetan culture and spirituality. With a history spanning thousands of years, the festival centres around the ritual of offering yak milk yoghurt to Buddhist monks who have completed their annual religious retreats. The pinnacle of the festival includes the viewing of a grand 500-square-meter embroidered thangka portrait of the Buddha. This artwork is showcased first at the revered Drepung Monastery in Lhasa and then at the Sera Monastery.

Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported that Chinese authorities have deployed a considerable number of police personnel and intensified restrictions, casting a pall over the celebratory atmosphere. The festival is most prominently celebrated in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet.

However, this year’s celebrations took place under the watchful eyes of a substantial contingent of Chinese police, who established inspection booths throughout Lhasa to scrutinize the identity cards of devotees. The heavy surveillance reflects the Chinese government’s ongoing control over Tibet, marked by the curbing of political activities, and the suppression of cultural and religious expressions among Tibetans.

Even government retirees have not escaped these strictures as they have been warned from engaging in religious activities and visiting local monasteries. The directive requires them to educate their children about loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party and the principles of socialism.

In addition to the religious rituals surrounding the festival, it showcases various cultural elements, including traditional Tibetan opera, ethnic songs and dances, cultural exhibitions, and picnics. The official directive has cast a shadow over the festivities, prohibiting government employees in Lhasa from participating in religious activities linked to the festival or engaging in any form of public gatherings. The directive underscores the importance of adhering to China’s Communist Party principles, instructing attendees to shun activities that oppose the government.

Tibetans have long voiced grievances about discrimination and human rights violations committed by Chinese authorities. Many Tibetans argue that these policies are designed to erode their national and cultural identity. The yoghurt festival, which traditionally symbolizes unity and devotion, has become yet another arena for this struggle.

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