Tibetans Celebrate Religious Festival Amidst Tensions Over Religious Freedom

August 15, 2004

Source: ABC News

Wire Service: Reuters


On August 15, 2004 Reuters reported, "Unfurling a giant cloth painting of the Buddha over a mountainside beside the great Drepung monastery, monks gave Tibetan pilgrims an annual glimpse Sunday of one of Tibet's great ceremonies. Chanting mantras and spinning prayer wheels, pilgrims gazed up in awe. Few of the 150,000 pilgrims gathered for the annual Shoton, or Yoghurt Festival, questioned whether the ritual represents real religious freedom for the deeply Buddhist region of communist China or is as transient as the incense smoke burning from their offerings. China's destruction of religion during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution when most Tibetan monasteries were dynamited to the ground has been replaced by a tentative relaxation that tightens swiftly at a first sign of anti-Chinese sentiment in the restive Himalayan region. The Communist Party says it made a mistake by persecuting monks and nuns in the Cultural Revolution, and that officials no longer interfere in religious life. Tension simmers between the Tibetans' profound faith in a mystical form of Buddhism and the Chinese vision of Tibetan culture and religion, colorful but firmly under Party control... The Shoton, or Yoghurt Festival, was originally a purely religious festival marking the time when monks and nuns finished their annual summer retreat. Lhasa residents would offer them Yoghurt to drink because they were not allowed to eat meat. It developed into a five-day pageant featuring the unfurling of the giant thangka, Tibetan opera, wrestling and archery, performed in the grounds of the Summer Palace of the Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile since fleeing to India in 1959."